By John Herrman
Posting in Environment
A new study suggests that travel in the developed world--by car, train, bus and plane--plateaued around the turn of the millennium.
Conventional wisdom dictates that the more money a country's citizens have, the more they'll travel. It's an assumption broadly borne out by data, but it's especially appealing due to the parallels between macro-level trends and personal experience: In the same way a richer society will demand more travel resources, cars and air travel are closely associated with personal wealth.
Accordingly, models of the future of travel--and by extension, greenhouse gas emissions--have assumed growth commensurate with increasing wealth.
This is a safe assumption when applied to the developing world, for which the developed world supplies plenty of data about the correlation between GDP and travel. But researchers at Berkeley and Stanford Universities claim to have found a point at which this correlation breaks down. Our appetite for travel, it seems, has its limits. To put it more dramatically, the developed world appears to have reached "Peak Travel."
The report charts the relationship between countries' wealth (using GDP as an indicator) and travel habits, using data collected from the United States, Canada, Sweden, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia from 1970-2008. A few of its salient findings:
- For the first 30 years, growth in miles traveled and car ownership were fairly steady. It wasn't until the year 2000 that passenger travel seemed to level out
- In the US, passenger travel peaked when the GDP per capita hit $37,000; in most other countries, this peak arrived between $25,000 and $30,000
- US car travel peaked at 8,100 miles per person per year, the highest of the group by far. All, however, have held steady or declined in the last 10 years
- Car ownership is stagnant
- Cars have on average become more efficient, using less fuel per mile than they did 20 years ago
So, what has stalled passenger travel in the developed world? The paper point to congestion, gas prices, fear of increasing gas prices, parking problems, and a decrease in commuting--though mainly as a result of a proportional increase in non-working old citizens.
Perhaps the most intuitive take, though, comes from the paper's co-author, Lee Schipper, who tells Miller McCune, "You get to a point where everybody who could possibly drive, drives."
The existence of "Peak Travel" has massive economic implications, and will--and has already begun to--steer the global auto industry away from its dependence on indefinite growth, at least in the United States, Western Europe and Japan.
It also has potentially huge implications for the environment, just not for a while. As the paper's authors point out, any stabilization or decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world will surely be overwhelmed by the growth in travel in countries like China and India, each with populations exceeding 1bn and plenty of expected economic growth in store over the next few decades.
What's more interesting is how these findings can be applied to nations where travel is still on the rise. Thedata doesn't just highlight the possibility of an eventual Global Peak Travel scenario--it provides some guidance for predicting plateaus on a country by country basis.
Jan 3, 2011
Interesting article. CEO of Westron Communications, Dave Casey, commented on it on the Westron blog. As a unified communications integrator, Westron works with clients all the time who are looking to use technology to reduce travel expenses. http://bit.ly/gGX0TG
Yeah its true that travel peaked has reached...If we go see 10 years back then we can find out that nowadays around 20 to 30 times the travelers are visiting the destinations every year...This shows that tourism is increasing day by day.... http://ferienhauserpinedademar.clubvillamar.de/findAllVillas.php?filter=Pineda+de+Mar&lang=de
This discussion is just too taxing to further contemplate. I believe I'll go flop on the couch and engage in a bit of omphaloskepsis.
The implication of this article is that the amount of travel has peaked. It suggests that like 'peak oil' there has been 'peak travel'. But look more closely and you see it is 'per capita' travel that has peaked. So the total amount of travel is going to grow with the population, about 1% per year in the US. Is this a sinister attempt at dis-information? Is there a suggestion that peak oil is not such a big deal if peak travel has happened? In the height of the recession the number of vehicle miles travelled actually reduced. But since then it has returned to its previous levels and seems likely to keep on growing.
Correct bstockha! I traveled (and by travel I mean REAL travel not just to work or the video store)quite a bit during my misbegotten youth, but no more. Between airport security & screening hassles, fees for everything from booking online/offline, pillows & blankets, to $7.00 peanuts & soda right on up to $25.00 for a SINGLE carry on bag. And please do - not - get - me - started on the great leg room/seat size shrinkage mystery! We in the developed world are well past the 'Golden Age' of travel. I guess it's time to explore THIS country, and I'll do that via a train or by car. Much less a pain in the &%@#$!
From people that I've spoken with, the current emphasis on "airport security" is having a definite effect on air travel, with many people saying that they would rather stay home than to deal with the time and inconvenience involved with getting through airport security. For many shorter trips, the added time getting to the airport early to get through the security lines, not ot mention the higher cost of airfares in the last couple years, makes driving an attractive alternative. An added bonus is not needing to rent a car at the other end of the trip.
The data set is more complex than most people think. The data we have regarding travel habits conincides with factors that are difficult to control for. The flattening of population growth curves in developed countries and the technical advances that make some forms of travel unnecessary are only a small part. Communities have changed format as well - often in a positive way - and had a positive impact on the need to travel. The resurgence of catalog purchasing (via the web) has brought us back to our great grand parent's practice of "ordering from Sears" rather than driving to town. And there are others. It might be interesting to overlay the dataset for non passenger travel. For example, when more articles were purchased from "big box" stores than online, the travel of each item was the total miles divided by the number of items in the shipment. In the age of online purchasing, the number of items per shipment has gone down, effectively increasing the total travel miles for non passengers. One wonders if it may be a zero sum game.
You would not normally think of it, but how many trips to the video store has Netflix eliminated? Even the use of home theater technology instead of driving to a movie would reduce trips. The slow death of Blockbuster is clear proof of the change.
Have to take the internet, telework, video conferencing, web shopping, movie downloading, etc. into account. These technologies are the ones most likely to have heaviest use in the richest countries. Be very interesting to see some data on that.
Funny that the article didn't mention the possibility that people in the developed world are coming to realize that their mania for traveling has a price, not just for them and the nations balance of payments, but for the planet. Thank Al Gore. The developed world uses half the planets resources, with 10% of it's people. You do the math -- not only can economic growth (i.e. resource use) not continue, our resource use needs to shrink by a large amount. North America uses about 300 Gjoules of energy per person per year, the world average is 80 Gjoules. Interestingly, that is approximately U.S. rate of energy use in the 1950's. It would not be hard, it would just not be so extraordinarily wasteful.
I live in Saint Paul and worked in Minneapolis. We have relatively low congestion compared to other metro areas, but the commute was the most stressful part of my day. I changed jobs so I could bike, and I do pretty much year round (not as hard as it sounds even in snow--though I don't generally bike in rain if I can help it). The cost of keeping a car, much less driving it, takes away cash I could spend on things I enjoy much more.
I think many people are sick of commuting. In my circle a significant number, about 20%, have made efforts to shorten their work commutes. It often comes down to money and quality of life. The cost of commuting has risen with the price of gas and many of them realize at $3 a gallon they can take as much as a 10 percent pay cut because of the savings on commuting related expenses from having a shorter commute. Any small pay loss not covered by savings is seen the price for gaining several hours a week back in their life by not being trapped in a car for up to 4 hours a day. Sleeping a little later and having more free time after work are great stress reducers in a tough economy.