Money & Politics with Jim Pethokoukis
Episode 21: The End of Driving

Guest: David Levinson
Dec 7, 2013
Direct Link to MP3 File

Direct link to MP3 file

It’s not just driverless cars. In the latest Ricochet Money & Politics podcast, economist, transportation expert, and blogger David Levinson argues traffic is declining and will continue to decline dramatically in the coming decades. And that decline is not only the result of some deeper economic and technological trends, but will itself cause a radical restructuring of American society.

What happened to traffic? – The Transportationist

  1. Mark Wilson

    The work week you called a “5/4″ is the norm in the aerospace industry, but we call it the 9/80.  It’s great to have a 3 day weekend ever other week.

  2. Frederick Key

    The main reasons for lower ridership on public transportation in my area of New York seem to be telecommuting and unemployment.

    Between the Google cars, waitress replacement, and loss of work to robots, it seems to me that Jack Williamson was right.

  3. BrentB67

    Me. Levinson must not visit the DFW metroplex often.

  4. mark alesse

    When I look at LA traffic, metro NY traffic, Boston to Rt. 128 traffic, the only conclusion I can come to is that over population has ruined life in these zones. It is not for me, thank you. 

  5. Fake John Galt

    I work in a place that has 4 day weeks, which because of other life costs give me 3 days to work a second job. That should help with traffic. Really these studies all seem to assume that when people are not in work the disappear. Maybe lock themselves into their homes.

  6. mildlyo

    Don’t buy it. I think Levinson is not taking into account the freedom of action allowed by the American highway system. I live in San Diego, California. If I telecommuted and had a flex day schedule I would not drive less. I would take advantage of the opportunity to surf in the morning, lunch at the zoo, and drive up to Big Bear valley to ski in the afternoon. All in the same day. I suspect that I wouldn’t be the only one enjoying the expanded freedom of time. The only part of driving that will be reduced if Levinson is correct is rush hour. Won’t miss it.

  7. HeartofAmerica

    Metro Kansas City is a sprawl of suburbs. Although there has been a recent renaissance of people moving into the urban core, I do not see suburb expansion curtailed anytime soon. We rely on our cars because our dear city leaders can’t get their collective stuff together to build a mass-transit system. Our only choice is a pieced-together bus system. Until residents really start to feel like they spend too much time in their cars trying to get to work and/or the cost of driving gets to high, we will stick to our cars. 

    It will be expensive and take decades to complete but is necessary. Currently, all previously presented plans, including a citizen approved plan are too narrow in scope and have no vision for the future. Due to the number of independent cities, counties and two states…this need to be a metro-wide effort or it will fail.

  8. Foxfier
    Mark Wilson: The work week you called a “5/4″ is the norm in the aerospace industry, but we call it the 9/80.  It’s great to have a 3 day weekend ever other week.

    Reminds me of something I noticed– over and over, the guy’s theory required that people would not only choose a flex day attached to a weekend, but that they’d start picking Tuesday through Thursday or a similar loss of personal gain.

    I really like the Flex Friday format, even if (like my husband)  prefer a Monday specifically because nobody else takes it…but it only works for a day that’s next to a weekend, and I don’t think you’ll get the same kind of improvement in productivity from chopping up another day!

  9. raycon and lindacon
    HeartofAmerica: Metro Kansas City is a sprawl of suburbs. Although there has been a recent renaissance of people moving into the urban core, I do not see suburb expansion curtailed anytime soon. We rely on our cars because our dear city leaders can’t get their collective stuff together to build a mass-transit system. Our only choice is a pieced-together bus system. Until residents really start to feel like they spend too much time in their cars trying to get to work and/or the cost of driving gets to high, we will stick to our cars. 

    It will be expensive and take decades to complete but is necessary. Currently, all previously presented plans, including a citizen approved plan are too narrow in scope and have no vision for the future. Due to the number of independent cities, counties and two states…this need to be a metro-wide effort or it will fail. · 7 minutes ago

    Look at the experience of any city in America with mass transit.

    Can’t fail, you say?

  10. Milt Rosenberg

    The Lifesmanship ploy in response to the expert holding forth at the party is: “But not in the South!”

  11. HeartofAmerica
    raycon and lindacon

    It will be expensive and take decades to complete but is necessary. Currently, all previously presented plans, including a citizen approved plan are too narrow in scope and have no vision for the future. Due to the number of independent cities, counties and two states…this need to be a metro-wide effort or it will fail. · 7 minutes ago

    Look at the experience of any city in America with mass transit.

    Can’t fail, you say? · 2 minutes ago

    KC spends millions on consultants and then never does anything. Regardless if it’s the airport or mass-transit, something needs to be decided and carried through. Currently, they are pushing a trolley car system (at a huge expense) for a two-mile trek from our city market to the Crown Center area. Residents and business owners within this district are on the hook for the taxes to cover this idiotic decision. It will serve a very limited amount of residents and patrons within this district. Go big or stop wasting consultant money and our taxes.

  12. Foxfier
    HeartofAmerica

     Currently, they are pushing a trolley car system (at a huge expense) for a two-mile trek from our city market to the Crown Center area. Residents and business owners within this district are on the hook for the taxes to cover this idiotic decision. It will serve a very limited amount of residents and patrons within this district. Go big or stop wasting consultant money and our taxes.

    That is going big.  That it doesn’t solve the problem doesn’t mean the solution should be made even bigger and less exact– although it probably means the consultants are smart enough to realize they lose their job if they do it properly. 

    They should go small– buses, vans, expand taxi options; trains are just buses that need their own roads.

    Want a really responsive “public transit” option, see what’s stopping people from starting a business themselves– Seattle’s “Airporter” comes to mind. 

  13. Whiskey Sam

    The Economist has been discussing this at least for the last year.  What they and everyone who thinks driving is going automated never discuss is that some people like driving for the sake of driving.  It takes no consideration of people who enjoy off-roading or who just like to get on the highway, turn up the stereo, and drive somewhere.  That is never going away.  This is an urban mindset that completely ignores rural life.

  14. Nick Stuart

    Just spent 1 hr 40 minutes to drive 16 miles (I-88/I-290 was a parking lot) against rush hour traffic. No accidents, no roadwork, no reason at all that I could tell. I’ll believe there’s an end to traffic when I see it.

  15. Annegeles

    Is a driverless car able to find the best parking space?  

    What does it do all day while you’re at work?   Is it out roaming the streets looking for other driverless cars to hang with?   To be really useful, it should be picking up the dry cleaning and doing the grocery shopping.  

    How much control would the “driver” have in a driverless car?   What happens if you look up from whatever you’re whiling away the time doing, and see some crank, who insists on driving his/her own car, coming at you?   

    Can you program the car to stop at all Dunkin’ Donuts?     

  16. MJBubba

    All through the 1970s new highway projects were found to have more traffic on them after the first year than had been predicted for the “design year” of 20 years in the future.   Several things caused this.  The travel forecasters had missed a huge change in driving patterns that had been happening through the 60s and was continuing.   Women who had been stay-at-home moms got jobs.   Teenagers got cars, and then got jobs to support their cars.   The mileage per person had skyrocketed.

    The projects that are currently coming on-line were all based on forecasts made at peak miles-per-person rates of travel.   With dropping birth rates beginning in the 1970s, declining employment, and with more electronic transfers of data, mileage driven is in decline.

    Another thing is the sprawl of employment.   Back when it was housing that spread out, the commutes to employment centers became highly congested.   Now that employment has scattered the way the people did, average commute distances have stayed flat or dropped even as suburbanization continued.

    This all contributes to a real decline in gas tax revenues.   Transportation agencies are strapped; there will be very little roadbuilding going foreward.

  17. MJBubba

    The Transportation Bill expires next September.   There will be a huge harangue next year, an election year.   The current Transportation Bill includes supplements from general revenues because of declining gas tax revenues.   The budget hawks on our side will be unlikely to want to continue to fund transportation with general fund revenues, since they will be looking for ways to pay for other parts of the federal budget that are growing.

    So, even though transportation construction is at a low, and employment will be hurt when the Highway Trust Fund goes broke, I am expecting transportation programs to take a major hit.   If you were hoping for any particular project that is planned for construction, just be expecting a delay of several years while your transportation agency tries to accumulate the needed funds.   Team Obama will be sure to direct all they can to their favorite projects, which would be those in Democratic districts.   All other road projects will suffer.   And construction workers will continue to be underemployed.

  18. MJBubba

    I recommend an increase in the gas tax.  

    Not the federal gas tax, but your state gas tax.   A two-cent increase in your gas tax would probably be a little over a half-percent increase in the price of gas and not noticed much by taxpayers pumping gas at $3.25 or so per gallon.   But that would amount to nearly a ten-percent increase in your transportation agency’s transportation funding  (using averages).   

    It would allow your state to pursue needed projects.   Otherwise, they will be reduced to very little construction, as it will consume all of their anticipated funds just to maintain the current facilities.

    It would be good for the overall economy of any state that does it, and if it is done at the state level it keeps power from continuing to accumulate in Washington.

  19. MJBubba

    I would like to see the GOP champion state-level increases in gas taxes.   That would keep the economy going while avoiding the practice of sending more money to Washington.   It would be way more cost-effective than the Stimulus was.

    It would not avoid the need to address how the drivers of electric vehicles get a free ride.   But I don’t expect electric vehicles to become a very large share of the market for at least a decade while the battery technology catches up.

  20. Mark Wilson
    CuriousJohn

    I would guess at least 1 biker is hurt a day, as a passenger car door is opens in front of them. · 8 hours ago

    Well, the current setup puts the bike lane on the driver side, on which door they are much more likely to swing open.

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