Monday, September 26, 2005

Let them discover substitutes

Will high gasoline prices come out of people's wallets or will they find ways to accommodate? Time and elasticities will tell.

Travel survey data from the 1990 NPTS and the 2001 NHTS shed some light. In the eleven years between the surveys, U.S. population grew by 15.8 percent but the number of drivers increased by 16.8 percent. Trips per capita per day grew by 11% and the fastest growing were the nonwork trips, increasing by 12.1%.

The state of traffic in the large cities, so often the subject of complaints, is amazingly good. We choose not to ration by price, we build transit (which is ever more underused) and we do not build nearly enough highways and roads. Yet, travel continues to grow, mainly in response to rising incomes.

In the absence of pricing, no one knows which trips are "less essential" and where the cutbacks will be. Suffice it to say that there is lots of room for accommodation.

One wit suggested that all those people who usually drive to the gym so that they can do their 40 minutes of cycling, could as easily bicycle to an arcade where they can drop some coins into a video game that simulates driving.