Peak Travel? Trends in Passenger Transport
Travel demand and vehicle use rates have generally increased from the 1970s through the early 2000s. These trends often inform projections about global energy growth, increases in greenhouse gas emissions and climate change scenarios.
A 2011 study by researchers at Stanford and University of California, Berkeley, “Are We Reaching ‘Peak Travel’? Trends in Passenger Transport in Industrialized Countries,” provides analysis of transportation trends in six industrialized countries (Japan, Canada, Australia, Sweden, the Unites States and the United Kingdom). Their research suggests that less total travel per capita and shifts away from energy-intensive forms of travel could result in diminishing transportation energy consumption and, potentially, declining global greenhouse gas emissions.
The study finds that:
- In the last three decades there were rapid increases in total travel activity, but since 2003 motorized travel demand by all modes has leveled out or declined in the majority of countries studied, and that travel in private vehicles has also declined.
- Although car ownership has continued to rise in most places, it has been at a slower rate, and these cars are being driven less.
- Overall total domestic travel across all six countries has slowed its growth relative to GDP and has declined in per-capita terms in some countries.
- Current trends in increased transportation efficiency, stagnation in total per-capita travel, and lower rates of carbon generated per unit of energy could cause the absolute levels of emissions in 2020 or 2030 to be lower than current levels.
The study indicates that energy projection models that have predicted consistent rises in vehicle miles traveled are overstated. If global “peak travel” is being reached, the researchers suggest, this should be reflected in predictions about future global emissions levels.
Tags: cars, carbon, greenhouse gases, mass transit
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the Stanford and University of California, Berkeley, study "Are We Reaching 'Peak Travel'? Trends in Passenger Transport in Industrialized Countries."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article "Cutting Carbon, but at What Cost?"
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.