This is an update to a post first made 12/5/11. As expected, vehicle miles of travel (VMT) declined again in November. The importance of this statistic to the automotive industry is simple - "vehilce miles of travel" is another way of saying "vehicle consumption". As noted in the post on the aging of the vehicle stock, vehicles today simply last longer. They will last a lot longer if they just sit in the garage.
Report details show that the smallest declines in VMT occurred on urban interstate roads. The biggest declines were for rural roads.
Total vehicle miles of travel (VMT) are still be below the peak reached four years earlier. Current statistics (updated through November) show a 2.6% decline from the November 2007 record. And, in recent months, we have been moving further away from the peak; not towards it.
The decline in VMT is greater (and its recovery slower) than either the past recession or higher gas prices would suggest. The pattern in VMT is, however, in tune with the falloff in employment, which peaked approximately the same time as employment (January 2008 versus November 2007). With respect to employment, we are even further away from the previous peak (-4.4%).
As with employment, we suspect there are secular, as well as cyclical forces, preventing a quick return to the previous peak. Shifts in demographics, housing patterns, and working environments have all reduced needed miles of travel. And, of course, the weak economy continues to restrain discretionary travel.
And consider the recent report that teenagers are less apt to run out and get their driver license the first day they are legally able. In 1985, 87% of all 19 year olds had a driver license. By 2008, that percentage had a fallen to 75% - and that was before the recession, which so decimated teenage employment. In a reversal of phrase, Michael Sivak, of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, said, “…some young people feel that driving interferes with texting…”