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Policy: Environment & Energy

Facts expose myths of mass transit growth, decline in American driving

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Transportation,Mark Tapscott,Morning Examiner,Energy and Environment

Two myths are persistently peddled by mass transit advocates, environmentalists and others who want to restore the 19th Century model of city life.

The first myth is that mass transit usage is going up dramatically, which is closely related to the second myth that Americans are driving less.

Washington Examiner columnist Michael Barone recently exposed the mass transit myth, while the American Road and Transportation Builders Association blew up the less-driving myth.

Driving dream never ended

Total miles travelled during any particular year varies but it's not because of earth-shaking sociological trends such as "the end of America's love-affair with the automobile."

According to the ARTBA, the single most important factor in determining how many miles are driven annually is the state of the economy.

"The reality is that American driving trends are driven largely by macro-economic forces, not agenda-seizing assertions about shifts in societal behavior," ARTBA said in a statement last week.

It's all about VMT

Vehicle-miles travelled is the key metric here and it peaked in 2007 at the height of the economic expansion that preceded the Great Recession of 2008.

"The variance between when VMT peaked in 2007 and its lowest point in 2011 was 2.8 percent — a decline far less dramatic than the recurring assertions of a shift in U.S. societal behavior. Further belying these claims, U.S. VMT has remained above 2.95 trillion miles for 10 consecutive years," ARBTA said.

"In 2012 and 2013, vehicle miles traveled on the nation’s highways rose more than 26 billion miles, offsetting almost one-third of the recession-driven decline," ARBTA said.

In other words, a growing economy produces more driving, while a shrinking economy produces less driving. It's the economy, stupid, not sociology!

Mass transit illusion

Barone noted a recent American Public Transportation Association claim that mass transit ridership set a new record in 2012, representing “a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities.”

In fact, Barone points to a recent analysis by three professors in the Washington Post who noted that on a per capita basis, mass transit ridership actually declined between 2008 and 2013.

The professors described themselves as supporters of mass transit but cautioned that, when the data is viewed objectively, "transit is a small and stagnant part of the transportation system."

All about politics

As Barone observed, the public transit association "is promoting the idea of a transit boom because it would like to see lots of federal money continue to be spent on transit."

In fact, mass transit already gets 20 percent of all federal transportation funding, even though it only accounts for a tiny portion of all trips.

Of course, the ARTBA is also worried about that funding, and it should be because, as Barone reported, most transit ridership is found in six big East Coast cites that have the nation's largest concentrations of downtown jobs. Just like in the 19th century.

On today's washingtonexaminer.com

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Sunday Editorial: Why it's vital to complete the Keystone XL pipeline.

Columnist/Hugh Hewitt: Will any 2016 GOP hopeful stand for a strong defense?

Columnist/James Jay Carafano: Active and reserve forces are all on the same Army team.

Columnist/Michael Barone: Hillary Clinton won't have an easy run to the presidency.

Columnist/Star Parker: Reaching out to minorities is key to a true conservative realignment.

Beltway Confidential/Michael Barone: Mass transit usage is not booming, contrary to backers.

Legal Newsline/Diane Dimond: A whistleblower's worst nightmare.

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The Los Angeles Times: Tea Party leaders vow to reinvent the movement.

USA Today: Obama says Europe should not be an East-West battleground.

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The American Spectator: The mau-mauing of Paul Ryan.

Washington Free Beacon: Obamacare's fourth anniversary brings billions in new costs to the economy.

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Author:

Mark Tapscott

Executive Editor
The Washington Examiner