Peak Travel: Really a Good Thing?

Peak Travel is here.  This term has arisen because several developed countries according to a new study have reached saturation point when it comes to private car use.  The study shows that car use in the last couple of years has not been increasing with higher GDP. The citizens no longer can take the queues, lack of parking and rising price of petrol. However should we really be celebrating “peak travel” or is peak travel just a frightening reminder of the level that driving can reach.

Peak travel is the result of the frustration that motorists face. High oil prices, congestion and parking all make driving less attractive. However different countries and locations can have a major influence on these factors. Taxes both through fuel, congestion charging and parking fees can all effect peak travel massively depending on the local political strategy towards cars. Congestion is also strongly affected by local policy. For example is the government still building new roads? Are they reducing or increasing priority for cars in city centres?

Therefore “peak travel” is less a simple relationship between development and whether driving is still sought after. Peak Travel has reached a higher peak in the USA than in other developed countries because of low fuel taxes, massive car priority in the land of the open road and urban sprawl. In Europe and Japan the saturation point has been reached at a lower level because the less positive aspects of driving become clear in densely populated areas. The same could be said when you compared Manhattan to New Jersey.

Therefore the reaching of the saturation point in the USA, although positive should be tampered by the sheer scale of driving in the USA and to a lesser extent the rest of the developed, car saturated world.

Local policy can have a major influence on the saturation point.

China & India’s policy towards driving will have a massive impact on the environment. Something is already clear: the peak travel that the USA, or even Europe and Japan have reached will not be possible in China and India.  It is also not sustainable in the industrialised world; not because of peak travel but rather because of peak oil.

Driving is going to become more expensive. Progressive taxes on driving are crucial if the crash in driving is going to be a small scrape or a multiple car pile-up. In the USA higher oil prices will probably mean massive upheavals in the way of life. New traffic concepts will have to be developed and whole cities will have to be reconceptualised.  In Europe and Japan the effects are also going to be dramatic to driving, but here the alternatives are more numerous than the USA.  In the developing world they may and should be able to avoid the damage of peak oil to driving and their society through following a progressive and intellectual relationship with car use.

Peak travel is positive, but the peak cannot be as high as it is in the industrialised world. Through progressive policies peak travel can be reached earlier.

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