Gasoline consumption resumed downward trend in 2012

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gasoline consumption by cars, pickup trucks and other light-duty vehicles dipped in 2012, resuming a decline that began a decade ago, according to a new report by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.
In all, U.S. drivers used about 123.6 billion gallons, down slightly from 2011 and the first decrease since the recession year of 2008, the report shows. The number of light-duty vehicles remained essentially level at 233.8 million, while the number of vehicle miles driven rose a half-percentage point to 2.66 trillion.But for all three categories, the longer-term trajectory is headed down. Gasoline consumption peaked in 2004 at 138.8 billion gallons; the number of miles driven topped out at almost 2.8 trillion in 2006; and light-duty vehicle ownership hit a high of 236.4 million in 2008, according to the report.Vehicle fuel economy, meanwhile, continued to increase. In 2012, the average car used about 529 gallons of gas, down more than 13 percent from the 2003 high of 611 gallons. There is “no evidence” recent reductions are temporary, the report says. While the Federal Highway Administration has not released final figures for 2013 gas consumption, it is likely to be flat in comparison with 2012, the most recent data indicate.

Taken together, those trends are squeezing federal and state transportation funding, which remains heavily reliant on fuel tax revenue. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned in February that the federal Highway Trust Fund “is on track to bounce checks” as early as August; for Congress, dealing with the funding outlook has emerged as the key issue in reauthorization of MAP-21, the surface transportation law that expires at the end of September.

Already, the uncertainty has prompted Arkansas to shelve 10 construction projects, and Colorado could delay widening a major highway, Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said on the Senate floor yesterday as she urged her colleagues to avert “this looming crisis” by pursuing plans proposed by the Obama administration and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) to raise more transportation revenue through tax code changes.

“States from Vermont to California might have to stop construction in its tracks because of this Highway Trust Fund shortage,” Murray said. Camp, who plans to retire after his current term, unveiled his plan as part of a broader tax reform initiative in late February; President Obama followed up soon after with a proposal in his fiscal 2015 budget request. Lawmakers have so far taken no action on either.