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Driving decline: Car-use dropping

2014-01-21 08:41

LESS FOCUS ON DRIVING: As cities implement policies pushing for public transport, vehicle use could decline in the future. Image: SHUTTERSTOCK

LONDON, England – Driving appears to have levelled and even started falling in many of the world's advanced economies long before the global downturn in 2008, according to the International Transport Forum.

The Orgnisation for Economic Co-operation has reported that the slowdown shows an end several decades in which car use grew twice as fast as gross domestic products and income and is consistent across the USA, Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and even Australia, reports


Waning car-use in the USA, Europe and Asia leaves the future of oil demand dependent on drivers in emerging markets.

According to ‘Long Run Trends in Car Use’, a report by the ITF: "The economic recession and relatively high fuel prices explain part of the decline in the growth of travel - but not all of it. The reasons are complex and may vary from country to country.

"There is still considerable uncertainty about why car use among young adults is falling so rapidly and whether it represents a voluntary change in lifestyle, a response to tough economic conditions or the increased availability of public transport and the Internet.

"Slowing population growth, population ageing and increasing urbanisation contributed to the change in passenger use in several countries. There is evidence that car use has also been reduced through policy intervention, particularly in urban areas."

The British transport department's ‘National Travel Survey 2012’ said mobility may also be declining across other modes of transport.: in 2012 the average person in Britain travelled 10 768km, four percent less than the annual average from 1995-97, The number of trips by private transport was down by 14%, the use ofpublic transport was up  by two percent.


Fuel costs are clearly a factor in many countries. Crude-oil prices have quadrupled since 2000 though pump prices for petrol and diesel has been proportionately smaller due to taxes. Nonetheless, driving has become significantly more expensive so households are travelling less and choosing more efficient modes of transport.

A similar trend was observed in the 1970's and early 1980's in response to the first of two major oil shocks.

Phil Goodwin of the University of the West of England's Centre for Transport and Society says demographics also play a part. Annual distances driven fall by 50% when an individual retires. As populations of advanced economies grow older, car use is falling but people are also responding to other more complex social changes such as the rise of mobile computing, smartphones, more single-person households.

The trend to start families later, more young people living in city centres and "changing images of contemporary life" could also be reducing car use.

Goodwin also believed the smart phone has replaced the car as the ultimate status symbol.


The ITF further suggested that more online shopping and social networking may have replaced some shopping trips and leisure travel. "Survey evidence supports the view that technology and social media are seen as substitutes for physical travel, particularly among the young.

 "The largest decline in car travel is for shopping and visiting friends and relatives, which some see suggestive of a change induced by choice (perhaps facilitated by the rising availability of online alternatives to travel) but which could also be the result of tighter budgets."

The downturn in driving is not uniform and is heavily concentrated in certain social groups. In Britain, for example, the downturn has been sharpest in London, where the high cost of insurance and parking, as well as congestion charging and a dense public transport network have all combined to reduce driving since around 2000.
Read more on:    england  |  usa  |  travel  |  driving  |  cars

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