Wednesday, December 17 2008 @ 09:28 AM UTC
Contributed by: B' Spokes
The Journal’s Ana Campoy reports:
As politicians debate how to break the nation’s addiction to foreign oil and curb its global-warming emissions, laypeople are already setting an example: They’re cutting back on driving.
That’s not just because they were shocked into conserving when gasoline prices surpassed $4 a gallon earlier this year, points out a new study by the Brookings Institution titled “The Road… Less Traveled.”
U.S. drivers began pushing the brakes four years ago — well before gas prices began shooting up. But it was 2007 when, for the first time, the number of miles traveled in the U.S. actually fell compared with the prior year.
That’s because, at this point, there are relatively few people eligible to drive who aren’t doing so already. The growing use of public transit and the sprouting of shopping centers in residential areas are also helping, the study says. These are changes the authors don’t expect will be reversed in coming years, even if gas prices keep falling.
The drop in miles driven will likely force the massive reorganization of transportation policy that experts say is badly needed, but that policy makers have so far skirted.
For starters, Congress will have to figure out how to make up for the shortfall in gasoline - tax revenue, which is used to fund transportation projects, as people use less of the fuel. Short-term, Brookings says, lawmakers should raise gas taxes, and while they’re at it, they should index them to inflation so that they rise along with overall prices. In the long-term, the study suggests a carbon tax.
But aside from securing new revenue streams, Congress will need to do a better job of assigning the cash. According to Brookings , traffic data suggests that either the build-up of road lanes is outpacing the growth in the number of cars that roll on them, or that fewer cars are driving over existing roads than in the past. Either way, the report says, if the number of miles Americans log “continues to fall—and states continue to build more roads—the nation may be wasting scarce transportation dollars on unneeded roads.”