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Americans logging fewer miles on road

December 13, 2008
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WASHINGTON - Motorists drove 9 billion fewer miles on the nation's roads in October even as gas prices were dropping, suggesting a downturn in driving that began a year ago is attributable to more than just energy costs.

Federal Highway Administration data released yesterday showed that the number of miles driven dropped 3.5 percent in October, compared with the same month a year ago. Between November 2007, when the driving decline began, and October, Americans drove 100 billion fewer miles. That's the largest continuous decline in driving the nation has experienced.

Gas prices averaged $3.15 a gallon in October, down from a high of $4.09 in July, according to the Energy Information Administration.

"The fact that the trend persists even as gas prices are dropping confirms that America's travel habits are fundamentally changing," Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said.

The South Atlantic region - a block of eight states and Washington, D.C. - had the biggest decline in October of any region, 5 percent fewer vehicle miles, according to the highway administration.

Montana's 8.4 percent driving decline was the largest of any state, followed by Utah with 7.4 percent, and South Carolina with 6.7 percent.

The agency collects the driving data from more than 4,000 automatic traffic recorders operated around-the-clock by state highway agencies.

While driving declined, subways, buses, commuter rail, and light-rail systems have reported record increases in ridership. Amtrak, the nation's intercity passenger railroad, said it carried the highest number of passengers and brought in the most revenue in fiscal 2008 in its 37-year history.

It is likely that the economic crisis is an important factor in the driving decline, said David Goldberg, a spokesman for Transportation for America, a coalition of groups pressing for more alternatives to driving.

Peters worried that the decline in driving is widening a gap between federal gas tax revenues and the government's commitments to fund state and local highway projects.

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