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Americans On The Road Again - And Again Cars Remain The Transportation Of Choice For Long-Distance Travelers

Tue., Nov. 11, 1997

Despite the growth of airlines, Americans still take long trips most often in their cars and are rolling up nearly twice the annual miles they did when the government last looked 18 years ago.

Americans’ continuing love affair with their cars was detailed in a survey of travel habits released Monday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said Americans travel more than 827 billion miles a year on long-distance trips, enough mileage for all Americans, if they wanted, to travel from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore.

Slater said Americans traveled 451.6 billion miles in their own cars or trucks and 355.3 billion miles by airplane. They also went 13.3 billion miles on buses and 4.3 billion miles on trains.

How far you go depends, in part, on where you live. In Texas, the average traveler logs 3,919 miles a year. But in Pennsylvania, that number drops to 3,035, a disparity created by the distance between Texas cities and the size of the Lone Star state, renowned for its miles of lonely highways.

In Michigan, average travelers record 3,864 miles a year. But in neighboring Ohio, travelers record only 3,130 miles per year. In Florida, a state that showed up as among the most traveled to, residents average more than 3,900 miles of travel a year.

Such insights, which usually never make it beyond the dim computer monitor of a travel agent, were dispensed in a survey the Department of Transportation said is the first major study of American travel habits by the government since 1977.

The survey found 80 percent of all trips are taken in cars and trucks, about the same as 1977. Air travel is now used 16 percent of the time, up from 12 percent 18 years ago.

The “American Travel Survey” used data gathered for 1995. The survey included 80,000 households nationwide and collected information about trips taken that were 100 miles or more.

All this adds up, Slater said, to a good argument for the government to spend more money on its highways, bridges, roadways, airports and any other transportation resource.

Slater’s announcement of the survey results came just a day after Congress worked out an agreement to continue funding federal highway programs, despite its inability to pass six-year legislation to authorize new aid for highways, bridges and mass-transit programs.

House and Senate negotiators Sunday worked out a compromise measure to provide states with $9.7 billion in temporary funding for highway, transit and safety programs while Congress debates long-term legislation.

The deal, which must now be voted on by both chambers, is needed because a broad federal highway law, known as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, has expired.

The interim bill would provide each state with at least 50 percent of its 1997 allotted transportation funds. The money could be used through May 1, 1998. The deal would also provide about $5.5 billion in new contract authority and continue funding for ISTEA.

The Transportation Department survey found that Americans:

Traveled more than 3,100 miles on long distance trips in 1995, up from 1,800 miles in 1977 on trips longer than 100 miles.

Buses and trains are used infrequently to make long-distance trips, but their use has grown in the past 18 years. Between 1977 and 1995, the number of bus trips increased 37 percent and train trips, 22 percent. In 1995, there were 20 million bus trips and 5 million train trips.

Seventy-four percent of trips longer than 1,000 miles are by plane, but - despite the growth in cut-rate short-hop airlines like Southwest - nearly all travel that is less than 500 miles round trip, is by car. About four percent is by bus or train and only two percent is by plane.

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