Total vehicle miles of travel (VMT) rose 1.8% in February versus the year-ago level. As in previous months, the gain was concentrated in the Northeast and North Central regions. VMT in both regions has been helped by mild winter weather and, in the latter region, by an economy that is performing much better than the overall U.S.
As noted in earlier posts, VMT and employment peaked at similar times (November 2007 for VMT, and January 2008 for employment). The graph below tracks the percent change from the peak for each series.
Since VMT is expressed as a 12-month moving average (as opposed to employment’s monthly seasonally adjusted number), it shows less severe movements. I fully expect employment will show a smaller percent decline than VMT in the near future. What’s troubling, however, is that both series may pull back again before reaching the zero line (thus, my “upward-slanted W” theory for the recovery.)
March’s VMT report should be telling as weather becomes a non-issue and the forces of higher gas prices and higher employment push in opposite directions.