At a time of record-high gasoline prices and a corresponding surge in transit ridership, US citizens are driving less for the sixth month in a row, highlighting the need to find a more sustainable and effective way to fund highway construction and maintenance, said United States Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters.
The Secretary said that US citizens drove 1.4 billion fewer highway miles in April 2008 than at the same time a year earlier and 400 million miles less than in March of this year. She added that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on all public roads for April 2008 fell 1.8% as compared with April 2007 travel. This marks a decline of nearly 20 billion miles traveled this year, and nearly 30 billion miles traveled since November. "We're burning less fuel as energy costs change driving patterns, steer people toward more fuel efficient vehicles and encourage more to use transit. Which is exactly why we need a more effective funding source than the gas tax," Secretary Peters said. The Secretary said as US citizens drive less, the federal Highway Trust Fund receives less revenue from gasoline and diesel sales – 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon, respectively. The Secretary noted that data show midsize SUV sales were down last month 38% over May of last year; car sales, which had accounted for less than half of the industry volume in 2007, rose to 57% in May. She said past trends have shown US citizens will continue to drive despite high gas prices, but will drive more fuel efficient vehicles consuming less fuel. "History shows that we're going to continue to see congested roads while gas tax revenues decline even further," she said. "As positive as any move toward greater fuel efficiency is, we need to make sure we have the kind of sustainable funding measures in place to support needed highway and transit improvements well into the future," said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Jim Ray. The average price of unleaded gasoline in the US was 2.75 dollars per gallon last August and this week stands at over 4 dollars. But compared to other countries since fuel taxes are lower in the US, fuel prices have remained below the average in developed countries. Last March when the gallon was costing 3.70 dollars the equivalent average price in Europe was 8 dollars per gallon. However the price of fuel in the US has risen very fast and has a greater impact on families' budgets because public transport is scarce and millions of people need cars to go to work, to school or shopping.