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Transportation Air Quality Selected Facts and Figures

Trends in Travel

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What Are the Nation's Trends in Travel?

Travel, Economic Growth, and Population (1970–2013)

Title: Line chart showing national trends in travel, economic growth, and population from 1970 to 2013 - Description: The line chart sets an index value of 100 in 1970 for three variables (travel, economic growth, and population). The Population line chart increases in a linear fashion to 150 in 2013. The VMT line increases in a basically linear fashion to approximately 275 in 2007, drops to about 270 in 2008, and remains fairly flat through 2013. The GDP line tracks closely with VMT until 1998, but then continues to climb to about 310 in 2007, drops to about 300 in 2009, and then steadily climbs to 335 in 2013.

Sources: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics, Table 1-35, March 2014, http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_35.html

U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Table 1, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014 (NST-EST2014-01), http://www.census.gov/popest/data/national/totals/2014/NST-EST2014-alldata.html

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Economic Accounts, May 2015, http://www.bea.gov/National/index.htm

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation–February 2015, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_03062015.pdf

Since 1970, growth in VMT has far outpaced population growth. VMT growth tracked closely with economic growth until the mid-2000s, but has since leveled off even as gross domestic product has increased.

How Many Miles Do We Travel in Vehicles?

Surface Passenger Miles Traveled (1990–2012)

Title: Stacked line chart showing surface passenger miles traveled from 1990 to 2012 in trillions of miles - Description: The stacked line chart (with areas under each line colored in different colors) shows surface passenger miles for three vehicle types: passenger cars and motorcycles, other 2-axle / 4-wheel vehicles (light-duty trucks), and transit and intercity bus and rail. The Passenger Car line begins at approximately 2.3 in 1990, dips to about 2.2 by 1992, steadily climbs to 2.5 by 1999, jumps to 3.1 in 2000, climbs to about 3.3 in 2007, drops to around 2.8 by 2009, and then steadily increases to 2.9 by 2012. The Light-Duty Truck line begins at approximately 3.3 in 1990, climbs steadily to about 4.4 in 2007, drops to about 3.6 in 2009, and then steadily increases to about 3.7 in 2012. The Transit line begins at approximately 3.4 in 1990 and then tracks exactly with the Light-Duty Truck line, ending at about 3.75.

Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics, Table 1-40, January 2015, http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_40.html

Between 1990 and 2012, the number of surface passenger miles traveled increased by 418 billion. Americans use cars more than any other form of ground transportation–98 percent of all passenger miles were traveled in personal vehicles (automobiles, motorcycles, and light-duty trucks) in 2012. From 1990 to 2012, transit and intercity bus and rail use increased by 18.8 billion passenger miles, or 26 percent.

FHWA anticipates growth in total VMT by all vehicle types to average 1.04 percent annually from 2013-2033. Growth in total VMT is expected to slow to only about 0.2 percent annually during the ensuing decade (2033-2043), reducing the average growth rate over the entire 30-year forecast period (2013-2043) to 0.76 percent annually. This represents a significant slowdown from the growth in total VMT experienced over the past 30 years, which averaged 2.08 percent annually.

Source: FHWA Forecasts of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT): May 2015, Office of Highway Policy Information Federal Highway Administration, June 5, 2015, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/tables/vmt/

How Do We Get to Work?

2000 2009

Title: Pie chart showing how Americans travelled to work in 2000 - Description: The pie chart shows that in 2000, 76% of the workforce drove to work alone, 12% carpooled, 5% used public transit, 3% walked, and 4% travelled by other means.Title: Pie chart showing how Americans travelled to work in 2009 - Description: The pie chart shows that in 2009, 79% of Americans drove to work alone, 11% carpooled, 5% used public transit, 3% walked, and 2% used other means of travel.

 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2009, Supplemental Table A, http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/pdf/supplemental_table_a[1].pdf

Americans commute to work in single-occupant vehicles more than by any other method. In 2000, 76 percent of the workforce drove to work alone. That percentage increased to 79 percent in 2009. The share of people commuting by transit and carpooling declined slightly in the same period.

Why Do We Take a Vehicle Trip?

2001 2009

Title: Pie chart showing reasons why Americans took vehicle trips in 2009 - Description: The pie chart shows that in 2009, 16% of trips were to and from work, 3% were for work-related business, 21% were for shopping, 22% were for family and personal errands, 10% were for school and church, 27% were social and recreational, and 2% were for other purposes.Title: Pie chart showing reasons why Americans took vehicle trips in 2001 - Description: The pie chart shows that in 2001, 22% of all vehicle trips were made travelling to and from work, 4% were for work-related business, 21% of trips were for shopping, 27% were for family and personal errands, 5% were for school or church, 20% were social and recreational, and 1% were for other purposes.

Source: FHWA 2009 National Household Travel Survey, Summary of Travel Trends, Table 5, January 2011, http://nhts.ornl.gov/2009/pub/stt.pdf

Commuting has declined significantly as a share of all vehicle trips. In 2001, 22 percent of all vehicle trips were made traveling to or from work. By 2009, only 16 percent of all trips were made for traveling to or from work.

What is the Growth in Freight Movement?

The ability of our nation's transportation system to provide for and maintain the efficient movement of freight is important to the continuing economic health of the United States. Between 1997 and 2012, the amount of freight moved by truck and rail grew by 5 percent each.

Growth in Truck and Rail Freight Movement (1997-2012)

Title: Bar chart showing the growth in truck and rail freight movement from 1997 to 2012 - Description: The bar chart shows the growth in truck and rail freight movement in billions of tons every five years between 1997 and 2012. In 1997, truck was just above 7.5 and rail was 1.5. In 2002, truck was a fraction higher than the 1997 value and rail was almost 2.0. In 2007 truck was close to 9.0 and rail was just about the same as 2002. In 2012, truck dropped back to about 8.0 and rail dropped back to just over 1.5.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Transportation Commodity Flow Survey, June 2015, http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/commodity_flow_survey/2012/united_states/table1b

How Does This Freight Move Around?

In 2012, trucks and rail carried the largest percentage of domestic commercial ton- miles, followed by pipeline, water, and multimodal.

Percentage of U.S. Commercial Freight Movement (2012)

Title: Pie chart showing the percentage of U.S. commercial freight movement in 2012 - Description: The pie chart shows the percentages of commercial freight movement in the U.S. by various modes of travel. Trucks account for 71%, 14% is by rail, 6% is through pipelines, waterborne freight movement is 5%, multimodal travel accounts for 3%, and air and other are less than 1%.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Transportation Commodity Flow Survey, Table 1a, June 2015, http://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/commodity_flow_survey/2012/united_states/table1a

What About Freight and Air Quality?

Diesel exhaust from freight vehicles is a primary source of PM2.5, air toxic contaminants, and NOx emissions. Freight emissions comprise close to one-third of U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions. This growth in freight movement and accompanying increase in emissions has led to a growing need to find new ways to address air quality concerns and greenhouse gas emissions associated with freight movement.

Marine cargo vessels and port complexes are a large source of diesel freight emissions. In addition to cargo ships, ports use cranes, hostlers, and other equipment powered by diesel fuel. Cargo vessels typically burn bunker fuel. They are a major contributor to air quality issues in coastal regions. Cargo ships usually switch to their auxiliary engines to provide power for ship operations while they are in port. Although some auxiliary engines use cleaner fuel than the main engines, they still contribute to localized air pollution around port complexes since the ships may be idling for days at a time. To combat this problem, many ports are constructing shore power (also known as cold ironing) systems that provide cleaner electrical power to cargo vessels while they are in port.

Source: Federal Highway Administration, Freight and Air Quality Handbook, May 2010, http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/fhwahop10024/index.htm

How Do Vehicle Miles Traveled and Lane Mileage Compare?

Growth of VMT and Lane Mileage (1990–2013)

Title: Line chart showing the growth in vehicle miles-traveled (VMT) and lane mileage from 1990 to 2013 - Description: The line chart sets an index value of 100 for VMT and lane miles in 1990. The VMT line increases linearly to approximately 141 in 2006, drops to approximately 138 in 2011, and then increases to 139 in 2013. The lane mile line increase very slowly to approximately 102 in 1996, stays relatively flat until 2001, and then climbs slowly to 109 in 2013.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics 2013 (Washington, DC: Annual Issues), Table VM-422C, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics.cfm

Despite significant growth in VMT, lane miles have increased only slightly since 1990. Over more than 20 years, VMT has increased 37 percent, while lane miles have increased only 7 percent. This is mitigated somewhat by targeted traffic flow improvements in some communities that enhance capacity without additional lane mileage.

Updated: 5/3/2016
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