VERMONT'S RECORD LOW CAR TRAVEL GROWTH FOR 2000-2010 NO SURPRISE BUT THE SUDDEN FLAT LINING OF THE NUMBER OF LICENSED DRIVERS TOTALLY UNEXPECTED
The unprecedented drop of Vermont vehicle miles of travel (AVMT) growth to the single numbers for 2000-2010 comes as no surprise, but the sudden and unexpected flatlining of the number of licensed drivers for the decade 1999-2009 contains the seeds of a sharper driving downtrend in the immediate future.
Sure the State's population grows slower in recent decades—10% for the 80s, 8% the 90s, and 3% for the past decade. And, yes, an amazing collapse in car travel growth continues--a huge 57% increase in the 80s followed by 17% in the 90s, and when the dust settles about 8% for 2000-2010. The trend line suggests a very possible negative number for this decade.
But even more startling are the driver license numbers which after an average growth per decade 1980-2000 of 20% barely nudged 1% for the entire decade 1999-2009. For the first decade these numbers break down to an absolute decline in the number of drivers aged 64 of below, a negative 2.5%. Sure going to be hard to increase driving in Vermont when the number of the under 65 drivers decline in great part because historically senior drivers spend more time and travel on buses, planes, trains and ships while driving miles per year drops an average of 40%.
Of course gas prices increased well over average inflation and household income slid. But regardless of the price of gas and household incomes—neither is expected change in a positive direction significantly—the baby boomer aging out into the post-car age of 65 and above accelerates for the coming decade. This suggests an increasingly negative trend for driver license numbers and car travel. One U.S. Census projection for Vermont shows a flat under 65 population for the entire 2000-2030 period while the 65 and up population more than doubles.
There may be some other factors at work in addition to age in the driver license numbers. For example, some young folks unable to afford a car may delay driver license purchase and/or take time when a license expires to renew (or not renew at all). Licensing fees also increased above inflation during the past decade, certainly more than the increase in household income.
Meanwhile the tremendous growth in Vermont numbers using buses and Amtrak can be expected and it will be of interest to catch the trends of walking and bicycling. (Note the trends discussed here are not much different for other New England States though New Hampshire will be somewhat higher in population and travel numbers than the other five states.)
The data here comes from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Highway Statistics Series, the U.S. Department of Transportation periodic survey of U.S. travel, and the U.S. Census data.
January 22, 2012