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If Congestion Is Getting Worse, Why Are We Spending Less Time Traveling?
If you were to take at face value the August 26 Urban Mobility Scorecard prepared by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) and INRIX, you'd believe that congestion is worsening throughout the United States, and a good reason to lay more asphalt. Of course, as Planetizen blogger Todd Litman explains here and here, that's hardly the case.
The supposed congestion plaguing American cities also belies the findings of the "Peak Motorization" report from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) released September 1. This report evaluated how much time we spent traveling.
Researcher Michael Sivak evaluates two years only: 2004, the year he previously determined had the highest vehicle miles traveled per capita [PDF], and 2014, the latest year for which data is available from the American Time Use Survey prepared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics—"a representative nationwide survey of how, where, and with whom Americans spend their time."
The tables report trip times for ten categories of trips—for eating, education, work, etc., far different than the one category evaluated by TTI. From the report:
Activities for which average travel time decreased included eating and drinking (from 0.13 hours to 0.10 hours), purchasing goods and services (from 0.30 hours to 0.27 hours), caring for and helping nonhousehold members (from 0.08 hours to 0.05 hours), work (from 0.28 hours to 0.27 hours), education (from 0.04 hours to 0.03 hours), and leisure and sports (from 0.23 hours to 0.21 hours). (These values are for men and women combined.)
"The main implications of the present results are that the total travel time per person decreased substantially from 2004 to 2014," Sivak concludes. However, he adds, "that this decrease is due to a decrease in the proportion of persons engaged in the trips, and not an overall reduction of the duration of the trips."