53 billion miles!

New driving numbers are in:
WASHINGTON – New data released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that, since last November, Americans have driven 53.2 billion miles less than they did over the same period a year earlier – topping the 1970s' total decline of 49.3 billion miles.
That's impressive. We actually can save when we want to.
Americans drove 4.7 percent less, or 12.2 billion miles fewer, in June 2008 than June 2007. The decline is most evident in rural travel, which has fallen by 4 percent – compared to the 1.2 percent decline in urban miles traveled – since the trend began last November.
I think that means that though residents in urban areas already use a mix of public and individual transportation options, residents in rural areas have been caught entirely by surprise. Since trading in a newly purchased vehicle incurs significant costs, they resort to the only option they have right now: driving fewer miles.

A far better solution to what most everyone knew was going to happen sooner or later (increased demand or decreased supply driving up the price) would have been the politically untenable gradually increasing gasoline tax imposed over the last 10-15 years. Industry and consumers would have known what to expect resulting in fewer 10 mpg vehicles on the road right now.
As Americans drive fewer miles, less revenue is generated for the Highway Trust Fund from gasoline and diesel sales – 18.4 cents per gallon and 24.4 cents per gallon, respectively. During the first quarter of 2008, motorists consumed nearly 400 million fewer gallons of gasoline, or about 1.3 percent less than during the same period in 2007, and 7 percent less – or 318 million gallons – of diesel.
The increased gasoline tax might have even helped with that problem as well since revenue would have kept pace or outpaced reduced miles driven.

It's not too late to do the right thing now: see this as a wakeup call to increase the gasoline tax gradually over the next 10 - 15 years, spend that money on transportation infrastructure and fuel-efficient vehicle development programs. And we could consider drilling a little more. As long as we respect the rights of coastal residents--such as those involved in Florida's tourism industry--to veto some planned sites. And we're realistic about how much oil we actually can come up with: fields located 20,000 leagues under the sea and oil shale aren't that easy to get juice out of!

But that would be an eco-whacko talking.