In 1979 the beloved Muppets released their first full length motion picture, “The Muppet Movie,” which followed the characters on a road trip across America. The movie is a favorite of mine and is relevant to a report I recently stumbled across, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Transportation Statistics Report 2018. This is a treasure trove of insights and data that captivated me for nearly a week as I poured through it – hence, in this article I will share some of the key things that stood out to me.
Now, the central song in The Muppet Movie is “Movin’ Right Along,” a song that was covered by one of my favorite bands, Alkaline Trio. Check out both versions…you will be tapping and bopping with the crew:
Movin’ right along in search of good times and good news
With good friends you can’t lose
This could become a habit
Opportunity knocks once let’s reach out and grab it
Together we’ll nab it
We’ll hitchhike, bus or yellow cab it
According to the DOT’s report, Americans are still moving along 8.7 million lane miles of highways – enough to circle the globe more than 360 times! Or go to the moon and back 18 times!
Here are some other eye-popping numbers that hit me when reading through the report:
- The freight transport system moves 54.7 tons (that is 109,400 pounds) of freight annually for every man, woman and child in the U.S.
- The American economy consumes 6,000 gallons of petroleum every second.
- Bikeshare ridership increased from 320,000 in 2010 to 35 million in 2017. (This growth rate astounds me…I love to bike but have honestly never used a bikeshare service. Recently, I used a scooter service and loved it – time to further diversify my travel patterns.)
Footloose and fancy-free
Getting there is half the fun, come share it with me
Moving right along (dog-a-doon doog-a-doon)
We’ll learn to share the load
We don’t need a map to keep this show on the road
What follows is a selection of quotes that spoke to me – I have organized them into sections and put some of them together to enhance their relevance. Take a look – some of this might seem pretty amazing. I would love to hear your thoughts about some of these outtakes. And remember, sing along as you read it!
Where people live and how they get stuff will have a significant effect on travel behavior
Where and how people live has changed. The trends of urbanization have not slowed, neither has the trend of maturity affecting people later in life. It seems younger generations are growing up more slowly and this is showing up in housing demographics and driving behavior, which might be strongly correlated. And, as we become much more reliant on technology and the service economy which enables us to have almost anything delivered to our doorstep within 24 hours, the impact on travel could be significant.
- “In 2017, people made fewer everyday trips than in the past. This is partially due to the decline in trips for shopping and running errands, which coincides with the rise in online shopping and household deliveries.”
- “In 2010 nearly 250 million people lived in the country’s urban areas – more than 80 percent of the total U.S. population…Overall, the amount of driving declined by 24 percent between 2001 and 2017 in urban areas, compared to 19 percent in rural areas.”
- “…one in three 18-34 year old’s lived in their parents’ home in 2016, compared to about one in four in 1975…The larger demographic context is that younger people are staying single longer, renting in urban areas longer, and using personal vehicles less for their travel…The percent of all people aged 16-24 without a license increased from 21 to 26 percent between 2009 and 2017.”
- “Since 1969, the number of households that owned three or more vehicles has grown by more than tenfold – from 2.9 million to nearly 29 million. The percentage of households with three or more vehicles has gone from 5 percent to nearly a quarter of all U.S. households.”
- “The 50 minutes spent on daily work travel was an increase of almost 10 percent from the 45.5 minutes in 2016…Commuting represented nearly a quarter of vehicle trips and 30 percent of vehicle-miles of travel…Nearly 20 million more commuters drove alone to work in 2017 than in 2000, while about 2 million fewer people carpooled to work…About 20 percent of weekday commuters make an incidental stop on the way to or from work.”
- “One of the major new conveniences for U.S. households in online shopping and home delivery of many types of goods…The estimated number of deliveries in a month more than doubled, from 2.4 in 2009 to 4.9 in 2017…Online shopping and home delivery of goods and services more than doubled between 2009 and 2017….That said, it is difficult to prove these online purchases substitute for specific shopping trips.”
- “While trip-making for work and school has not changed much over many decades, in the most recent data people reported fewer discretionary trips, such as for shopping and errands and for social and recreational purposes.”
The transportation sector is bigger than most realize
If you have ever thought that the transportation economy is just a tangent to the overall health of the economy, you were wrong. The importance of this sector to everything that occurs in the United States cannot be overstated, and the energy consumed to perform this function is worthy of the extensive attention it receives.
- “The estimated 5.35 trillion person-miles of travel and 5.26 trillion ton-miles of freight moved by the U.S. transportation system require almost one-third of total U.S. energy use.”
- “The distribution of transportation energy use by mode has changed little since 1990. The largest change was in the increased share of heavy-duty highway vehicles, from 15.4 percent of total transportation use in 1990 to 22.7 percent in 2016. During this period, heavy-duty vehicle-miles of travel (vat) doubled while, in contrast, light-duty vehicle vmt increased by 44 percent.”
- “Highway vehicles continue to account for the majority of transportation’s energy use – 85.0 percent in 2016…Heavy-duty highway vehicles increased their share of energy use from 15.4 percent in 1990 to 22.7 percent in 2016.”
Moving stuff around the country is a big deal
Everything we consume has to be delivered from its source of production to the location where we acquire it (even if it is not on our doorstep!). The economy has grown significantly since the end of the Great Recession and, consequently, so too has our dependence on trucking to move goods around the country. Understanding what is happening in this sector is critical to understanding the demands for transportation energy and the trajectory of the economy. The report itself presents historical data showing that freight transport activity is an important economic indicator and that changes in this industry have preceded significant changes in the economic performance.
- “The freight transportation system moved nearly 17.7 billion tons of goods valued at more than $18.1 trillion, or an average of 54.7 tons of freight annually for every man, woman, and child in the United States in 2016…Trucks carry the largest share of goods shipped in the United States – 62.7 percent of tonnage and 61.9 percent of the value.”
- “The substantial growth in E-commerce sales from 2000 to 2016 presents challenges to the freight transportation and logistics industry, such as increasing truck and delivery vehicle traffic in urban and residential areas.”
- “Total national expenditures on transportation accounted for $1.2 trillion of all personal expenditures in 2017, making it the fourth largest personal expenditure category (excluding other) after healthcare, housing and food…Transportation expenditures by or on behalf of households increased 54.6 percent, from $794.8 billion in 2000 to $1.2 trillion in 2017. Total household expenditures increased 97.0 percent, from $6.8 to $13.3 trillion, over the same period, outpacing the growth in transportation expenditures.”
Petroleum reigns supreme…still
The headlines we read and the agendas we see on nearly all transportation-related conference programs would lead one to believe that alternatives to petroleum are dominating the market. But nothing could be further from the truth. While these alternatives are receiving a ton of attention, traditional liquid hydrocarbons are still powering the market and have yielded only modest ground.
- “Petroleum is the largest provider of energy for transportation, supplying over 90 percent of transportation’s energy since 1954…Transportation accounted for 70.6 percent of U.S. petroleum consumption in 2017, the highest level since 2009; transportation continues to rely on petroleum for 92.2 percent of its energy requirements.”
- “Transportation remains the dominant consumer of petroleum in the U.S. economy, consuming petroleum at the rate of 6,000 gallons per second and accounting for 71.6 percent of total petroleum consumption in 2017, the highest level since 2009.”
- “Between 2000 and 2017, gasoline use increased 7.2 percent, to 137.6 billion gallons per year, while diesel use grew 23.4 percent, reaching 45.8 billion gallons annually.”
- “In the United States diesel is the predominant fuel of choice for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses, accounting for 89.4 percent of fuel use by those vehicles in 2015.”
- “U.S. dependence on imported petroleum decreased to 18.8 percent in 2017, the lowest level in more than half a century due to increased domestic petroleum production, improvements in energy efficiency, and increased use of alternative fuels.”
The environmental impact of transportation cannot be taken for granted
There is an understandable reason why all the attention is being foisted upon alternatives to traditional petroleum fuels – the amount of energy we consume to move ourselves and our goods around has a significant impact on the world in which we live. The data is clear – transportation presents a challenge to environmental stewardship, but also has made significant progress to address past ills.
- “The energy efficiency of transportation continues to improve. Fuel economy improvements from 1975 to 2017 have saved an estimated 1.7 trillion gallons of gasoline, enough to power all such vehicles in the United States for 13 years at the 2016 rate of gasoline consumption… In terms of CO2 emissions, 1.7 trillion gallons equals 15 billion metric tons.”
- “Although transportation’s energy use has increased every year since 2012, because of ongoing improvements in energy efficiency, transportation energy use in 2017 was still 2.4 percent lower than in 2005.”
- “Transportation accounts for almost 30 percent of U.S. energy use and, because most of that energy is derived from petroleum, it is also the leading source of carbon dioxide emissions… Combustion of petroleum in internal combustion engines accounts for nearly all the pollutant emissions from the transportation sector…Transportation became the largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions among all energy using sectors in the U.S. economy in 2016, overtaking electricity generation for the first time…Transportation’s CO2 emissions grew 1.3 percent per year from 2012 to 2017.”
- “Continued reductions in emissions of all major air pollutants from transportation vehicles have contributed to cleaner air in U.S. cities. Emissions of pollutants that damage urban air quality continued to decrease for all major pollutants, contributing to improving air quality in most U.S. metropolitan areas…Across all cities for which AQI [Air Quality Index] data are available, the number of days with good air quality has increased since 2000, while the number of days with unhealthy air has decreased substantially.”
- “Transportation emissions of carbon monoxide (CO), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC), particulate matter of 10 or 2.5 microns or less (PM10, PM2.5) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) were all lower in 2017 than in 2010, despite a tripling of highway vehicle-miles of travel since 1970…Emissions of carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds from highway vehicles, largely a result of incompletely combusted fuel in vehicle exhaust, were reduced to 11 percent of their 1970 levels in 2017. Emissions of NOx were reduced by almost 70 percent over the same period.”
- “More than 95 percent of scrapped vehicles are recycled in some way…The EPA estimates that 99 percent of scrapped lead acid batteries and 40 percent of scrapped motor vehicle tires were recycled in 2015.”
Alternative fuels and vehicles are gaining a stronger foothold
Despite the dominance of liquid petroleum fuels, alternatives are gaining not just attention but also market share. From biofuels to electrification, current trends show that the transportation energy market will be much more diverse in the coming decades than ever before in our history – but it is going to take time and the data shows that some of these options are still in their market infancy. Whether one or more of these alternatives is destined to overthrow king oil for pre-eminence remains to be seen, but the opportunities for each to contribute increasing value to the transportation economy cannot be denied.
- “Biofuel in the form of ethanol blended up to 10 percent by volume with nearly all gasoline sold in the United States increased from 0.13 quads [quadrillion Btu] in 2000 to 1.04 quads in 2010 and 1.15 quads in 2017…From negligible quantities prior to 2000, biodiesel blended a 5 to 20 percent increased from 0.0001 quad in 2001 to 0.25 quad in 2017.”
- “Natural gas used in transportation increased from 0.67 quad in 2000 to a peak of 0.89 quad in 2013. Since then natural gas has lost ground partly because of lower oil prices, with only 0.76 quad used in 2017.”
- “Commercial sales of FCEVs [fuel cell electric vehicles] to the public began in 2015 when 115 FCEVs were sold, essentially all in California. FCEV sales increased to 1,074 in 2016 and 2,313 in 2017. As of August 2018, a total of 4,925 FCEVs have been sold in the United States…Thirty-five retail hydrogen refueling stations are now operating in California, with another 29 in development. The state plans to have 200 hydrogen refueling stations in operations by 2025.”
- “Although plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales grew from about 19,000 in 2011 to over 200,000 in 2017, they comprise only 1.2 percent of total sales and less than one-fourth of one percent of vehicles on the road. In 2017 they are estimated to have reduced highway motor fuel use by 0.1 percent…From initial sales of 10,000 battery-electric vehicles and 8,000 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in 2011, U.S. PEV sales increased tenfold to 200,000 in 2017, more than half of which were BEVs…An estimated 740,000 PEVs were on U.S. roads by the end of 2017, a little more than one-quarter of 1 percent of the approximately 270 million vehicles on U.S. highways.”
- “Electricity has supplied less than 1 percent of energy for transportation since 1950…Electric vehicles are estimated to have reduced U.S. motor fuel consumption by 215 million gallons in 2017, 0.1 percent of total U.S. motor fuel use in that year.”
- “The average range of BEVs sold in the United States increased to over 160 miles in 2017…From 2007 to 2014, the cost per kWh of battery capacity is estimated to have decreased from over $1,000 to $400 and to have fallen to $210 - $240 per kWh in 2017.”
- “Worldwide sales of PEVs were 1.28 million in 2017, about 1.3 percent of global vehicle sales, with the largest markets in China and Europe…The global PEV population was estimated to be 3.3 million vehicles at the end of 2017.”