Record Memorial Day Travel Due to Low Gas Prices, Improved Economy

In addition to record travel this Memorial Day, the U.S. DOT reports that March broke the record for the most vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Gas prices, though rising since late March, are predicted to drop and remain low through the end of 2015.
May 26, 2015, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"The AAA motor club project(ed) that 37.2 million Americans travel(ed) more than 50 miles [Memorial Day] weekend — a 4.7 percent increase from last year and the highest number for the holiday since 2005," writes Clifford Krauss, energy correspondent for The New York Times. "Of those travelers, about 33 million [drove], a 5.3 percent increase over last year, the club said.

“A strong employment market and low gas prices have driven consumer optimism to new highs and boosted Americans’ disposable income,” said Marshall L. Doney, AAA’s president.

While gas prices are "91 cents below the price a year ago," they have been rising lately. To quote Krauss, "Gasoline prices in most states have surged to their highest level since last November, when energy prices collapsed after an OPEC meeting [on Nov. 27] in which Saudi Arabia and its allies decided against cutting production despite a growing global glut in crude oil supplies."

However, Time's Justin Worland writes that gas prices for this holiday weekend were the lowest in six years—since 2009. 

Memorial Day, when many Americans take road trips, marks the approximate start of the summer driving season when gas prices often increase. The increase is at least in part due to oil companies complying with requirements that they produce a more expensive summer-grade gasoline.

Clearly the recent price increase hasn't dampened auto travel. According to a May 20 government press release, "New estimates released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) show that Americans drove 261.7 billion vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) in March of this year, which is the most ever driven in March."

The 720.1 billion VMT driven on U.S. roads in the first quarter of the year beats the previous record of 705.7 billion set in 2006...

See AASHTO Journal for highlights from the March 2015 Traffic Volume Trends report.

Prior USDOT/FHWA press releases listed below announce mileage records set along similar lines - vehicle miles is increasing, suggesting that the 2007 record of will be broken soon.

Returning to Krauss' piece which greatly focuses on global oil and domestic gasoline prices, he writes that experts foresee declining prices through the end of the year.

“Crude and gasoline prices are going to fall between now and the end of the year,” Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for the Oil Price Information Service, predicts, adding that by late December “there will be many more states with $1.99 gasoline than $2.99 gasoline.”

"After summer, look for bigger price drops," writes Chris Woodyard for USA Today. "Barring hurricanes, which can temporarily drive prices through the roof if Gulf Coast refineries shut down, many stations around the country will be back to $2-a-gallon gas, Kloza says."

To put today's gas prices into perspective, the last post where we cited Kloza was almost four years ago. Then, as now, he predicted falling gas prices, "but don't expect lower than $3.00," he stated.]

There is one exception to the falling gasoline prices—California. Kloza "said most of the refinery problems would have a temporary price impact, except in California, where he said gasoline prices over the summer months should remain high relative to the rest of the country," writes Krauss. 

In reviewing past Planetizen posts tagged "VMT", two distinct, opposing patterns appear: One reinforces the concept that peak VMT, also called peak car, is behind us; the other predicts that the United States is en route to shattering the 2007 record

According to FHWA's Traffic Volume Trends - March 2015: Moving 12-month average [PDF], the answer is in: the record has been broken.

Prior record, measured in millions of miles:

2008: 3,026,334 

2015: 3,064,841

Full Story:
Published on Friday, May 22, 2015 in The New York Times - Energy & Environment
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