We’ve spoken a lot about traffic volumes over the past few weeks on this blog – and for good reason too: there are some strange things going on with traffic volumes on state highways now static for around seven years and vehicle kilometres travelled on both state highways and local roads in the Auckland area increasing at a much slower rate than population growth over the past five years. Needless to say, these trends are pretty much unheard of previously – in that for close to a century traffic volumes have just gone up, up and up (world wars excluded, I imagine).
The trend is not just limited to New Zealand though, here’s a graph showing the 12 month rolling total of vehicle miles travelled in the USA since 1970:
Showing a comparison with times of recession is useful because often when you point out to people that traffic volumes aren’t increasing, the first response is “but that’s just due to the recession”. Looking at the above graph you can see that in a recession it’s normal for volumes to flat-line or even decrease. Yet outside recessionary times there’s almost always an increase in volumes – aside from what looks like a time period which coincided the 1979 energy crisis.
That is until recently. While obviously the world’s recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis has been slow, having VMT flat-line and then quite sharply decline in very recent times, outside a recessionary period, is quite unprecedented. Something very different is happening here, a big reduction in traffic volumes even when the economy is growing. It would be interesting to run a comparison for New Zealand – something that the Ministry of Transport should be doing but I suspect aren’t because their heads are stuck in the sand just as much as the Minister’s.