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Personal travel growth influences projected transportation energy demand

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has found that personal travel growth significantly influences transportation energy demand.

In 2007, personal travel (measured in light duty vehicle miles travelled (VMT) per licensed driver, was equivalent to 12 900 miles per annum. In 2012, this figure decreased to approximately 12 500 miles per annum.

Recent analysis indicates that a number of factors influence travel behaviour, including economic, demographic, technological, social, and environmental determinants that have the potential to significantly shift light duty vehicle energy consumption.


Despite the fact that economic indicators such as employment, income and economic growth remain a dominant influence on levels of personal travel, US travel indicators started to decouple from income and employment after 2007. A decrease in the labour participation rate (the percentage of the total population ages 16 or over either employed or looking for work) since the early 2000s, as well as income, fuel prices, the costs of purchasing a vehicle, and other operating costs all continue to affect light duty vehicle (LDV) travel.


Licensing rates for the youngest portion of the US population have declined steadily since 1990. In addition, as the population ages, individuals tend to drive less; the percentage of the US population aged 65 or older is expected to increase from 17.4% in 2012 to 26.8% in 2040.

Other factors

Technological, social and environmental factors also influence the VMT. Increasing fuel efficiency of LDVs, telecommuting, e-commerce, urbanization, alternative modes of travel and social media can supplant or complement personal vehicle use.

The EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2014 explores two scenarios in regards to variations in travel demand as regards the reference case.

The Low VMT case assumes an environment in which travel choices made by drivers result in lower demand. In this case:

  • VMT per licensed driver and total VMT are 19% lower in 2040 than the reference case.
  • US transportation sector energy demand reaches 5.3 million bbls of oil equivalent in 2040, 18% lower than the reference case.
  • Total carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector are about 9% lower than the reference case.

The High VMT case assumes changes in travel behaviour that result in a moderate increase in VMT per licensed driver relative to the reference case:

  • VMT per licensed driver and total VMT are 6% higher in 2040 than in the reference case.
  • US LDVs consume 6.7 million bpd of oil equivalent in 2040, 5% more than in the reference case.
  • Total carbon dioxide emissions exceed the reference case by 2.5%.

Adapted from a press release by Emma McAleavey.

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