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Opening Arguments

Up one place, down another

Our love affair with the automobile seems to be cooling a little, and some people are freaking out:

It’s not quite Lord of the Rings or Toy Story, but the University of Michigan’s Michael Sivak has hit a threequel of studies suggesting that the U.S. has reached the era of peak cars.

So far this year, Sivak has approached the question by looking first at vehicle registrations—they’re down per capita in the U.S. and have been for some time—and then at miles traveled—also down per capita. Assuming we have fewer vehicles per person and those vehicles are being driven less, Sivak theorizes that sales of gasoline and diesel should be down. And after parsing the latest statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, he finds that is the case.

“The bottom line,” he writes, putting it in bold to be extra clear, “We drive fewer light-duty vehicles, we drive each of them less, and we consume less fuel.” These trends predated the Great Recession, and with other societal signposts, such as fewer young people getting drivers licenses, the evidence is mounting that something fundamental has changed, and this isn’t just an artifact of the Great Recession.

I'm not sure this represents as fundamental a shift as the article suggests or that it will be a permanent change. Changes in one sector always cause changes in other sectors. I think the relative depression of the transportatiion sector is a predictable ripple effect of the advances in the communications sector (a factor not even mentioned in the piece). The easier it is to communicate across long distances, the less need there is to travel them.