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Fewer Jobs + Expensive Gas = Less Cars on the Road

Rob Perks

Posted May 25, 2012

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How about some transportation trivia? What do you get when you mix low employment with high gas prices? Less drivers on the road. Actually, a whole lot less, according to a study released Tuesday by INRIX showing that traffic congestion dropped by a whopping 30% in the U.S. in 2011 following two years of modest increases in 2009 (1%) and 2010 (10%).

In it’s fifth annual Traffic Scorecard, INRIX data showed that 70 of the top 100 most populated cities in the country showed decreases, with Honolulu, L.A. and San Francisco showing the highest decreases—also the cities where the gas prices exceeded the national average at their peak in April 2011.

“Americans are driving less and spending less fueled by gas prices and a largely jobless recovery,” said Bryan Mistele, INRIX president and chief executive officer.

Now back to INRIX, which determines decreases in congestion based on how many hours cars spent stuck in traffic -- what they refer to as “wasted hours.”

For instance, last year drivers in Honolulu “wasted” 58 hours in traffic, compared to nearly 80 wasted hours in 2010. That’s a substantial decrease, but in Hawaii those are hours could have been spent surfing, taking a long walk on the beach after a hard day’s work, or sipping a Mai Tai.

INRIX’s data shows that nationwide, Americans traveling the nation’s worst traffic corridors (of the worst 10, four are in Los Angeles, four in New York, one in Pittsburgh and one in San Francisco) experience up to 60 hours of delay annually on their afternoon commutes alone. Time that could have been spent with kids, spouses, walking the dog, preparing an evening meal, and generally improving your standard of living.

Great news that there were less cars on the road last year—good for the environment, less traffic for commuters, less “wasted” time, fewer resources used, but at the expense of job losses and high gas prices—highlighting our dependency on fossil fuels.

We need a transportation system that gives us choices besides being stuck in traffic “a little less” every year due to a collapsed economy. According to INRIX, “If you happen to drive any of the Top 10 Worst Corridors during rush hour you spend nearly three weeks per year stuck in traffic, and could ride a bicycle faster than you could drive your car to work.”

Sure, gas prices have dropped recently -- leading perhaps to an uptick in the number of people hitting the highways for the Memorial Day holiday weekend -- but we all know that higher gas prices are here to stay. So the secret to getting out of gridlock is to offer people more ways to get where they want to go. And that hinges on expanding our nation's travel options -- particularly public transit and walkable communities -- because when it comes to transportation, more choices means less traffic. 

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JamesMay 27 2012 08:43 AM

First, the idea that the gas tax is too low is preposterous. Tell that to a truck driver or construction worker who need their vehicles as part of their work. On a recent trip to Florida (9 hour drive), I certainly did not think the gas tax or price was too low as I filled up twice.
Many of us work and live in areas where there is no alternative to driving a car. Forget bikes, mopeds, or some sort of rail/bus deal: not available and never will be way out where we live.
The idea of raising gas prices will only hurt the economy more. As far as "sitting in traffic", I do not like that either and always try to take alternatives that are not as busy. Not everyone lives in a city and has the option of walking two blocks to work or working from home. We also use our cars to get to the stores, theaters, vacation places (there is no train around here that goes to the beach), and to visit friends. Realistic solutions are needed, not just hoping that raising taxes is the cure for everything.

Rob PerksMay 29 2012 09:35 AM

The federal gas tax has not been increased since 1993, nor has it even been indexed to keep pace with inflation. That, along with fewer fill-ups due to more fuel-efficient vehicles, higher construction costs, and aging infrastructure in need of repair and replacement make this a perfect storm for the nation's transportation system. Like it or not, adding a few cents per gallon would go a long way toward replenishing the Highway Trust Fund so we can fix our roads and expand public transportation beyond urban areas and reduce traffic congestion.

BSMay 29 2012 08:57 PM

Taxes may not have increased, but toll roads are much more prevalent than they were 20yrs ago.

I'd rather see a higher fuel tax, but revenues have been raised via other means. And quite frankly, toll roads are generally in much better condition than other roads. The only thing I don't like about them is that people will choose to drive less efficient routes to avoid them.

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