Some reprieve in Jan VMT

The Federal Highway Administration is out with January Travel Trends, giving details of how many vehicle miles were traveled in that month. After being flat pretty much all last year, January 2006 was up 3.8% compared to January of last year. The increase affected all regions, and both rural and urban roads to varying degrees, so there's little doubt that it's a real effect (though it was aided slightly by the fact that January 2005 had somewhat depressed VMT).

Monthly US vehicle miles traveled for the last three years. Source FHWA

However, I'm guessing the reasons for this are somewhat transitory:
  • December global oil production recovered from the hurricanes to match the May peak, so a little more oil was available than in November
  • January is historically always the month of lowest driving
  • The weather was unusually warm in January, which both reduced the demand for heating oil, freeing up oil for making gasoline, and also makes people want to drive more.
Thus, unless oil supply improves from the plateau I doubt this is going to be a lasting trend - we already know oil production in January and February fell from the December number and gas prices have been going up.

Still, it's probably good news for Q1 GDP (at least for those who think economic growth is a good thing).

More background here.

Update [2006-3-28 2:45:24 by Stuart Staniford]:

Here's retail gas prices over the same period. On the whole, it would appear that prices so far in 2006 have increased at least as much over 2005 as that year did over 2004. This would appear to offer further support for the idea that January 2005 is more likely a weather-related anomaly than a harbinger of a new trend.

Retail gasoline price in US cents, all grades and regions. Source EIA

Update [2006-3-28 3:31:20 by Stuart Staniford]:

A commenter asked about fuel efficiency - has it increased as a result of the run-up in gas prices in the last few years? We know there's started to be some negative impact on the sale of large SUVs, and some positive impact on the sale of small cars.

As far as I know, no official body tracks fuel efficiency on a close and recent basis - the EIA is only up to 2003. However, I made my own approximate indicator by dividing the FHWA VMT by EIA monthly gasoline supplied. Note this has several flaws that I freely admit. The VMT numbers include diesel vehicles (there are no monthly figures that separate by grade of vehicle), but the gasoline numbers do not include diesel (which I do not believe is well separated from heating oil in EIA statistics). This is a moderately significant distortion in the absolute number (since about 8% of VMT is large trucks IIRC), but hopefully is not a big issue in comparing month to month over short time periods. The other main issue is probably imperfect matching of time periods - gasoline supplied in one month may be powering vehicle miles driven in the next month.

Anyway, for what it's worth, the data show no sign whatsoever of improving fuel efficiency in the deployed US vehicle fleet through Dec 2005:

Vehicle miles traveled per gallon of supplied gasoline in the US. Source EIA and FHWA.

I speculate that the obvious seasonal effect in the graph is due to a higher mix of long-haul freeway driving in the summer months.

Fuel efficiency in the US has been pretty much flat since 1990. Apparently, prices have not yet gone high enough to trigger another round of improvements:

Fuel efficiency of various classes of vehicles in the US. Source Transportation Energy Data Book.

How much has fuel economy affected the numbers?
I sure see a lot more 40+ mpg cars on the road than last year.
Good question.  I added a (slightly rough) analysis of that question to the post.  Looks like there's no sign whatsoever of improving fuel economy through the end of last year, at least.
A late addition to this thread: Lou Grinzo has the latest figures on gasoline consumption from January:

It says that U.S. January gasoline consumption dropped 0.6% from a year ago. In conjuntion with Stuart's report that miles travelled was up 3.8% from a year ago, that points to about a 4.4% increase in MPG, which would be substantial.

Of course all these figures have a fair amount of uncertainty, and given Stuart's analysis showing no trend in increasing MPG throughout 2005, this sudden increase in January is rather suspicious. It will be very interesting to see if it carries on into February.

Well if I'm reading the chart correctly, this makes sense.

IN SS's MPG chart, it appears MPG is up almost 1 MPG, which would equal close to 4.4%.

Am I reading it right?

"A lot more" may still be statistically insignificant.

Personally I suspect that only the last summer SUV blowout sale may have very well compensated or even exceeded the effect of small cars number increase. IMO the shift is picking up but quite slowly. Here in Atlanta I see much more (and almost new) SUVs, minivans and old inefficient cars for sale than last year, and they seem to be sitting around for months.

New vehicle sales are down year-over-year for 2006 through mid-March, but the percentage decline in all three light truck segments of the US market - SUVs, pickups, and vans - is in the double digits.

Is this a significant response to the post-Katrina fuel prices?  Probably.  Light truck sales have recently been about half the market for passenger vehicles.  

The US scrappage rate of cars and trucks combined was at the historic low of 4.5% but the scrappage rate for the light truck segment was only 4.1%.  

Sorry - scrappage rates are for 2005.
The low scrappage rates are interesting.  It certainly makes it hard to argue that people will respond to peak oil by increasing vehicle turnover - seems more likely that vehicle turnover will continue to decrease.  Thus we will be stuck with the effects of the current inefficient fleet for a long time.
Sure, assuming the roads stay intact...

Full Article behind this

It's hard to say, with the bulk of the price increases coming in the last half of the year.  I'd like to see the scrappage rates in another year.

I've been a lifelong car guy, so TOD is a bit painful for me.  From what I've read recently, a stigma is developing in urban settings, and only among some people, against the use of large SUVs and pickups by those who don't need them for work.  This, combined with the fuel penalty of SUV use, suggests that light trucks will be driven less in situations where there is a choice of a more fuel-efficient vehicle.  I can't find a reference at the moment, but the fuel penalty of using an average light truck in place of an average car is about 42%.  Using the light truck adds an extra 2 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over a distance of 16,000 miles.  

See Figure 3.3 on page 14 of this .pdf for a graph on automobile survival rates. Eyeballing this graph, we can expect about half of all 1990 model year vehicles to still be on the road in 2007.  The sad irony is that the people driving older vehicles will tend to lack the means to purchase more efficient vehicles, but will feel the crunch of higher fuel prices most acutely.    
January is a VERY bad month to do trend analysis with.  From memory. January 2006 was among the warmest on record (forgot if any blizzards in 1-2005/

I write this singla data point (January 2006 VMT) off as meaningless.

However, earlier months and longer term averages, show little elasticity of demand for our beloved autos in the US, regardless of oil price.

I did hear a radio commerical in Phoenix for some developer of FAR exurbia (US Ranch ?) that was extolling the development that they just sold out "at the foot of the Granite Mountains"  (whereever that is) and then talked about the "new plateau of elegant living" that was "closer to Phoenix".

So the worst villians are "hedging their bets".  Not nearly enough though.

You are 100% that one month's figures mean nothing. However, as I look at the 12 month moving average graph, it seems to me that number of miles travelled during the most recent 12 months for which data is available has indeed levelled off, most likely in response to higher gasoline prices.

Although demand for gasoline is highly price inelastic in the short run, it has a much greater eleasticity over time. Nobody can know exactly what the long-run price elasticity of demand for gasoline in the U.S. is, but in all probability it increases not only over time but also at higher levels of price. Thus gasoline may be highly price inelastic over a price range of, say $1.50 to $3.00 per gallon, be somewhat more elastic from $3 to $5 per gallon, and possibly about unitary elasticity (over a period of several years) at a price of $5 to $10 per gallon.

In any case, the law of demand applies: Other things staying the same, a lower quantity will be demanded (purchased) at a higher price than at a lower price. In other words, the demand curve for gasoline is not a vertical line.

The issue of income elasticity of demand is a "whole 'nother beast" and there is no need to go there, except to observe in passing that as nominal national income increases, the demand (i.e. the whole demand curve) for gasoline increases.

I see time scale changes in gasoline price elasticity of demand as being structural (buy smaller car, move closer to work, move to New Orleans :-), build new mass transit system).

Simple demand reduction due to customer preference and substitution (double price of green beans and see demand plummet immediately) is sadly lacking in gasoline/oil.

Double price of gasoline and see demand grow by 0.1% instead of ~1.7% y=o=y.  NOT GOOD :-(

If you are in a rural red state you still do not see many Prius and the like vehicles.

A lack of oil is going to have to seriously impact Americans on a broad scale, not just higher cost for gas, but a serious lack, before people will STOP wanting economic growth - and that still requires them to wake up. It is still years off.

Currently there is a glut of natural gas on the market in North America and if warm temperatures persist next winter, it will stay that way.

Definitely seeing some behavior changes in New England.    I tried to sell my f150 and expedition for much less than book, and couldn't get a bite.  Dealers do not want to take big trucks or suvs in trade because they are not selling on the pre-owned market - at least not in this area.  I finally unloaded them in a trade for a prius, but took a bath on the trade.

The wait list on the prius was 21 deep at our local toyota dealer, and they did not even have one in the show room.  People are placing orders without a test drive, or in some cases, even seeing one up close.

Great car by the way - getting a legit 50 mpg


Your in an environmental blue state would be my argument. My daughter visiting from New Jersey noted the difference, but my town has probably the highest # of prius owners per capita, certainly the county, if not in the state.

I work in construction and driving the prius to a job still gets some comments and looks that reflect a V-8 mentality.

Our Rotary club of all 20 members has four hybrids, one being a home-made one courtesy of CalPoly University, San Luis Obispo, with a converted Fiat Spider body. The others are two Prius and one Insight.

Go over to the Central Valley (Fresno) and the numbers drop dramatically.


We're in agreement here.  Vermont is definitely a blue state any way you look at it.  My point is that we are starting to see some consumer behavior changes that will manifest themselves in the statistics later.  I think 2006 will be the year that fuel efficient vehicles start to make a big comeback.  Gas prices in the $2.50 range together with the vague uncertainty many Americans are feeling about energy (even if they can't label it - see recent CNN/USA today/Gallup Poll -, will change behavior, and I agree that it's likey to happen first in "blue" areas.  Conferate's post below attests to this.

I get the same reaction at times with my prius.  Additionally, going from a fire breathing f150 with the full off-road package to a prius in one fell swoop is difficult for some to absorb - I must be out of my head.

You guys are absolutely morning commute (in the heart of redstate Texas) is chockfull of oversized SUVs and P/U trucks. Sometimes I feel quite small in my Subaru!  
It actually makes more economic sense to buy a Corolla/Civic, instead of a hybrid, especially if you combine it with reducing your commute from home to work to as close to zero as possible.
You can reduce your use of fuel even further if you ride a
bicycle. You get practical utilitarian exercise to boot.
Of course by doing so you risk sinning against the gods of
finance and oil, and may have to do penance when you die. ;)
You may also die a lot sooner.  Biking is just not safe around here.  Especially in winter.  
Maybe, of course I'm not sure where you live, but here in
Chicago we get heat in the summer, bitter cold in the winter
with ice and snow. Plus we have lots of traffic. I ride
my trusty bicycle year-round w/o difficulty more than 100
miles per week. When gas prices shoot up, I am amused by
the poor slobs paying tons o cash to fill up their
metal cages. I laugh when I ride swiftly past the line of
metal cages sitting motionless in traffic.

When 300,000 demonstrators clogged the streets west of the
loop on March 10th, a busy Friday afternoon I was able to
find a way through the crowd and on to my destination w/o
any problem. Everyone else had to sit restlessly in their
cages in a seemingly endless traffic snarl-up from
the demonstration.

Pic I took from astride my bicycle of the demonstration
passing the corner of Jackson and Peoria

I think Chicago (and other large cities) is probably better for bikes than most places.  Traffic jams aren't really a problem here.  SUVs going 60 in a 35mph zone are.  And they do this even if there's 6" of snow on the roads.  Since, you know, they have four wheel drive.  :-P

Someone over at posted about going car-free in Chicago.  He used electric bikes to get everywhere.  It sounded so cool I considered doing it myself, but eventually came to the conclusion that it's just not possible here.  We get more snow and ice than Chicago, we don't have enough traffic to slow vehicles down, and it gets dark way too early in the winter.  I don't even feel comfortable walking on the sidewalk in winter or at night here.  Forget biking.

Another thing that dissuaded me was that when I Googled commuter bike sites, it seems every site was "in memory" of some biker who'd been run over by a truck or something.

... the "in memory" comment reminds me of friends who
skydive telling me they refused to bounce, they would
instead "grab the grass". ;)

We all have to go some day. I'd like to live life to the
fullest, and cycling helps me do that. I like to think it
helps others by conserving fuel, cutting CO2 emissions
and the like. It may cost me dearly some day, but I'm not
sure that fate will be worse than what awaits those who
depend on those mechanical cages to ferry their sedentary
bodies from place to place.

I live only two miles from work.  I can and do walk.  

In the end, I decided to buy a Toyota Corolla.  I drive so little that buying a hybrid really didn't make sense.  Besides, if the gas stations go dry in a year, I'd be really ticked off if I paid big bucks for a car.  ;-)


You have come to a good solution that works for you. For me, I would never live in a place where it was not safe to bike. In Minnesota some of us have studded tires to help with snow and ice, and thousands (mostly students) bike year round. Of the bike fatalities in the seven-county area Metro area I know of during the past few years, every single one was due to gross recklessness--such as not stopping at a stop sign.

What's the matter, you want to live forever;-)

Yup, my Nokian studded tires saved my sorry hide several times this winter.

Pics of studded bicycle tires where I bought a pair.

it seems every site was "in memory" of some biker who'd been run over by a truck or something.
If they had automobile commuter sites, they would probably do the same thing. Yes, biking is dangerous, but so is driving a car. Subway or commuter rail are by far the safest options for travel if you're lucky enough to live near them, despite the 1980s Hollywood image of the subway as dominated by roving bands of street toughs. At any rate, I've been cycling in New York City for seven years and share a lot of undeadFiz's thoughts. I mean, a Prius is great, no doubt. But from my perspective as a cyclist, it still uses a lot of gas.
There's no public transportation to speak of here.  When I worked in NYC, I took the subway and Metro-North every day.  I loved it.  I could sleep all the way in.  I even took the subway at night, when I had overtime.  Including a Halloween night, when there was widespread unrest in the city.  I never felt threatened.

Weirdly, a lot of native New Yorkers I knew were too scared to take the subway and insisted on taking the bus.  I never understood that.  The only thing I can figure is that they remembered the "bad old days," before the city starting cracking down.  

"The Bad Old Days" may return if the stock market collapses, which would also hit the real estate market big time. NYC taxes are heavily dependent on both. That might start a vicicous cycle...
Leanan, I get the feeling that you're cherry-picking evidence here. So, I'll give you some company. ;)

I've commuted by bike for two-and-a-half years, both in a city (Calgary) and a small rural town (Stettler). In both cases, I was needlessly fearful of sharing the road with drivers. A bike often allows you to use roads (or sidewalks) that cars don't. You can choose your route to balance your concerns with traffic. I have never had a problem finding routes that either used low-traffic roads, wide shoulders, or had sidewalks that I was comfortable using.

This flexibility also carries over to weather. You're right that snow and freezing temperatures can make things more dangerous (as it does for cars), but my experience is that this is hugely exaggerated. When we get snow, I change my route to roads that are almost deserted and allow me to safely follow car tracks through the snow. During the spring thaw-and-freeze cycle, the most dangerous time to cycle, less traveled roads thaw less. This allows me stay off the more traveled roads until they've thawed completely.

This season, I've had to put my foot down exactly once. I've fallen only one day (the first day I commuted on snow) in my cycling commute career. I have never been nervous about a car hitting me. And I'm not some kind of thrill-seeker.

Honestly, if it were as dangerous as some make it sound, I wouldn't be doing it.

I did consider all that.  (I read all those commuter bike sites, remember.)  I even road around on weekends while making my decision, trying to find alternate routes.  Unfortunately, there are none.  All the cars are doing the same thing, trying to shave 30 seconds off their commute by cutting through neighborhoods to avoid traffic lights.  

I think I may also be a victim of the mixed-use area I chose to live in (to shorten my commute).  There are offices, stores, and businesses mixed with housing.  Which is great, in one way.  I can walk to the store, the post office, the local college (with its CSA farm), etc.  The flip side is there are cars and trucks everywhere, even on the "back roads."  

The guy from Chicago I originally talked took the train when the weather was too bad to bike.  Sadly, that is not an option here.

Also, I suspect that, being female, I have different security concerns than you do.  There are areas around here I would not bike through in broad daylight, let alone at night.  

Here's a grim example:

Someone over at posted about going car-free in Chicago.  He used electric bikes to get everywhere. It sounded so cool I considered doing it myself, but eventually came to the conclusion that it's just not possible here.


That was likely me.  And you're right, a lot of places are  more unfriendly to biking than Chicago.  Chicago ranks high on surveys of cyclists and it's been improving over the last few years.

The suburbs of Chicago are more difficult to negotiate by bike than the city itself.  Many suburbs have neighborhood streets that go in loops or end in cul-de-sacs.  To go from a neighborhood to anywhere else requires going out onto a large high speed street or highway.  These are dicey even on a fast electric bike.

But inside the city there are few places that can't be reached by quieter neighborhood streets.  And many of the larger avenues have bike lanes.

It also helps to have good public transportation.  When the weather is bad I ride a folding bicycle to an el train station (el stands for elevated although its a subway in my area - it's also electric!).

Todd Allen

It probably was you.  Are you the one who even did a home renovation, hauling stuff from Home Depot on your bike trailer?

Many suburbs have neighborhood streets that go in loops or end in cul-de-sacs.  To go from a neighborhood to anywhere else requires going out onto a large high speed street or highway.  These are dicey even on a fast electric bike.

Yup.  Suburbs are designed to keep people from cutting through them.  You often have to go miles out of your way, just to get to the next block.

I still plan to get an electric bike, but it will be in addition to my car, not instead of.  I'm looking to get a folder, but I haven't decided which one yet.  

Let me recommend the Brompton folding bike; I've been delighted with mine for the past four years. Recently I saw (for less money) a Giant folding bike that looked good, though not as compact as the Brompton, which conveniently folds into a large suitcase for air travel.

For electric bikes, I suggest go simple but not cheap. There is good stuff made in Germany and crap from China, surprise, surprise.

The Bromptons I saw folded up very nicely, but had plastic three-speed shifter housings sticking out from the handlebars, just waiting to be broken off while you fold the bike.

My brothers and I used to have those three-speed Sturmey-Archer shifters on our old Raleigh bikes, but they were bright metal.  Even so, they took a lot of incidental abuse.

With the Xootr, I simply twist a drum near my right hand to shift.

My dealer didn't have one, but here's the Birdy with a BionX electric package:  

There is no plastic on my four-year-old three-speed Brompton; it is all steel and an example of English engineering at its best.

My guess is that a dealer could replace anything plastic with something sturdier. Of the two Brompton dealers I have had business with, both are outstanding.

BTW I have not dumped my Brompton (nor any other pedal bicycle) for more than thirty years and some tens of thousands of miles.

Paranoia rules.

Thanks for the rec.  I'll check it out.  

At the moment, I'm kind of leaning toward a Dahon. I know you didn't like them, but I do, and the reviews have been very good.  Their e-bike is a bit underpowered (killer hills around here), so perhaps I would be better off buying a non-electric Dahon folder and buying a motor separately.

There was recently a Bionx discussion on one of my e-bike mailing lists, and no one seemed to like them much.  

This is one reason I haven't bought an e-bike yet.  The best folding models all seem to be sold only overseas (Europe and Japan).  No one is especially enthused about any models sold in the U.S.  But there's increasing interest, and the technology is improving rapidly, so waiting might pay off.  As long as I don't wait until everyone and their uncle wants to buy one.  ;-)

I do know I don't want Li-ion batteries, though.  The explosion problems they've been having are very off-putting.  Not something you want under your butt.

IMO the Dahon is crap.
I guess it depends on which model you've tried.  They make a great variety.  I test rode a Birdy before buying the Dahon.  The Birdy was heavier and slower and more expensive too.

I bought a Dahon Helios P8 with which I'm quite happy.  The biggest drawback is that the steering is a little twitchy but I adapted to it quickly.

Other than that, the bike is light, sturdy, brakes and shifts well.  It folds/unfolds quick and carries well in the soft bag/backpack.  I typically use it for short trips of one to five miles, often in combination with public transit.

For my last three trips by plane I've taken it with me and had no trouble.  It's a joy to arrive at an airport, fetch my bike from baggage and ride away without messing with cabs or car rental.

It's also extremely adjustable allowing it to be ridden by almost anyone.  When people visit, it is almost always the first bike to be loaned out.

I'd recommend though that anyone considering buying any bike, not just rely on word of mouth but go find a place to test ride the bikes.  Only by trying them will you know which will likely work out best for yourself.

Thanks for your positive input on that model Dahon.

Let me know more once you have 3,000 miles+ on it;-)

I'd poke a query out at rec.bicycles.misc or
there's a good British contingent there and they do a lot with folders. They'll point you to some web info. You might look into internal hub options too. Cleaner, and the drive chain is easily enclosed. Breezer has a new folder out.  
Unfortunately, the Brits all recommend models that are not available in the U.S.  
Bastards aren't they? They do it on purpose.

That was me!

In addition to biking my latest pursuit is gardening - only partially peak oil inspired as my girlfriend is a horticulturalist.

Last weekend I hauled home 4 bales of straw on my bike trailer to mulch some garden beds.  The weekend before I trailered home a 150 foot roll 5 foot tall of 6"x6" wire mesh (normally used for reinforcing concrete) to make tomato cages.

I'm probably more pessimistic than most regarding global warming, energy, and the overall state of the union, but having simplified and improved my quality of life while reducing my environmental footprint, I'm optimistic that there are many simple ways to mitigate the problems.


That's really neat.  You're an inspiration.  :)

And thanks for the Dahon review you posted above.  Nice to hear it's highly adjustable.  I am pretty small, so adjustability is a concern.  

IMO, if you want to take the bike on the subway, get a good Brompton or Dahon that folds very small.  From what I've seen, there are $650 Bromptons with cheap components, $1,700 Bromptons with excellent components and many models in between.  Sounds like the same is true of Dahon.

Xootr seems like good quality for about $800, but although you can take time to pack it into a suitcase, IMO the Xootr doesn't quickly fold small enough for the subway.  But it rides like a big bike and I just wanted something that would fit under my lay table.

BTW, the Xootr Swift comes in S, M, L and XL frame sizes.  I didn't know that when I bought mine, but I assume I got at least a large frame.

Most motorists have the perception that biking isn't safe.  There are very few places in the US where motorists wouldn't say that, yet there are plenty of bicyclists in most of those places safely biking anyway.  On a per-mile basis, biking isn't as safe as motoring, but then most bicycle trips are much shorter than motor vehicle trips.  On per trip and per hour bases, and just about any other basis, bicycling is safer than motoring. See  And that is still ignoring the fact that most people in the US end up dying from lack of exercise, which biking takes care of.  Of course, many Americans may end up doing a good deal more manual labor in the future, which will also deal with this problem :-{

The perceptions that biking is dangerous and hard, that transit is only for poor people, and small cars are not safe are some of the problems this country will have to overcome as we get through oil peaking.

I've been biking for most of my transportation in Michigan for 20 years all year long.  I get plenty of a**holes to deal with, but very little danger.  I get through winter snow using knobby tires on my mountainbike.  I recently bought studded tires as well, but I haven't noticed any advantage.  I suspect their "benefit" is like that of anti-lock brakes - they encourage more dangerous driving than before because of the extra safety margin.


I looked at this, and would agree with you in some cases.  Ultimately, much will depend on the price of gas, and I plan to keep this vehicle for a long, long time.

Note, a base Prius (including Fed tax credits exceeding $3k for hybrids), comes in at about $17,000.  I haven't bought a new car in years as it typically doesn't make economic sense.  However, I decided to go for it with this attractive little package.

A key number to keep in mind is the replacement cost of the battery per mile driven.  

Having said that, if a true (mass produced) plug-in hybrid were available now that would give me about 30 miles per day on batteries only, I would be a buyer.  We buy electricity from a 100% wind source, so theoretically I could drive a car on wind power (at least insofar as daily energy usage is concerned).  One still has to consider the fossil fuel input into making the vehicle.

A better idea of course is Alan's rail electrification plan.

Well, the battery thing is an issue to become educated about.

But given that Toyota has never had to replace a battery due to wear and tear, and that people have racked up 160,000 miles without trouble ... I'm not sure it is "key."

Some studies indicate a battery life of 300,000 miles, which would make it even less of an issue.

more here:

Someone pointed out in a recent thread that many of us inhabiting this site have a wary or ambivalent relationship with the automobile. In my case "outright hostility" would be more accurate. That attitude obviously is counter to the prevailing culture which equates the single occupancy high horse-power vehicle as the acme of personal freedom. Although not enshrined in the Constitution the right to drive alone at high speed is held far more dearly than any in the Bill of Rights. This cognitive dissonance between the way most of us live and the impending recognition of rapidly rising costs for that "life-style" is what makes this such a n enormous political and social problem.

The technical solutions that often get thrown around here are the easy part. Implimenting them on any significant scale may be nearly impossible, not simply because of the imbedded costs, but because no one wants to face this reality.

I agree with Alan that the peak oil problem as it relates to transportation is not simply one of finding alternate fuels, but alternate means of transportation. The social, political and environmental costs of the automobile go far beyond fuel ssues.

Funny place to hang that comment, as if technical accuracy is the same thing as techno-religion.

See also my post on attention economies

My comment was intended for further up the chain, and was not in response to the longevity or life cycles of batteries, about which I know nothing.

Nothing "Freudian" this one, Odograph, just my error.

Although not enshrined in the Constitution

It's not?  That's news to 17% of Americans.  

Seventeen percent said that the [First] amendment contained the right to drive a car.

That was extremely funny. "Americans know more about the Simpsons than they do about the 1st Admendment."

Right to own a pet.

That is too funny!  Thanks Leanan.
Well ... since many consider the U.S. Constitution to be a living / breathing document maybe it actually does guarantee the right to drive a car.

Sarcasm aside,the framers of the Constitution got by with vastly less capable transport than almost all present day Americans, but freedom of assembly demands mobility. One of the things I fear about the non market based solutions to peak oil is the ability of the powers that be to selectively choke off mobility.

The MSNBC article is pretty interesting.  As I said, as soon as mass produced plug-in hybrids are available, I'm a buyer.  
With Ni-Mh, you definitely have an advantage of PBSO4. However, the acticle you linked to seemed to think that milage was the most important issue for battery breakdown. In a real life hybrid, I would rate milage dead last. High miles = high speed, which = gas engine, not battery cycles. So if the article were to be really technical, they would have to tell you how many cycles they get out of the average battery.
The real problem likely to be encountered is age. Ok, the first of the Priuses?, Prius'?, Pruii?... anyways came out in 1997. So that means that the original ones are hitting that 10 year mark. I would like to hear some information on the useage of those cars, and what condition the batteries are in today. It is possible that Toyota spec'ed a good battery (to not do so in this case would be a major oversight), which explains the slightly higher cost. I'm still leary about the lifespan....

Also, a side note. The prius is somewhat overrated. A large percentage of its fuel economy stems from its aerodyanmic design, harder tires, small engine, and other engineering abnormalities. Normal cars don't store engine coolant in a thermos... I would like to know what the economy of that car would be with some nice big open wheel rims, a soft set of 315 traction ta's, and no thermos bottle. I'd bet the wheel/tire change alone would drop it into the 30's.

My car average 24mpg (very long term). That's with bad alignment, soft tires, and a very heavy foot (the average includes several 1/4 mile runs). I do not have a thermos, instead I have a LOW temp thermostat, so I am waseing even more heat. I am often driving at 70mphr, and often sitting in rush hour (~3-5mphr). Sometimes I am doing 115. Eitherway, not too bad for something chevy designed back in '94 (ok, so actually it was 'designed' in 90).

I guess "overrated" is based on how much higher you put it than all the other midsize cars.  It does, actually, rack up the best real world mileage of any midsize car sold in America:

2005 Toyota Prius
Number of Vehicles: 86
Average User MPG: 47.4
Range: 32 - 61 MPG

That matches my mileage (currently sitting at 50.8 mpg, 200 miles since last fill-up).

And I gotta say it is kinda silly to break out all the technological bits in the Prius, liking aerodynamics more than batteries, etc.

If you think aerodynamics can do it alone, go ahead and beat those numbers.

I've been running direct injection diesels for about 10 years.  Never a problem. Avg. 45 mpg with a bike racks on the current cars. VW's Passat is offered in diesel again (and that wagon model is nice <g>) though I've found the Golf to be an equally  useful, albeit smaller, configuration.
Those are indeed nice cars:

2005 Volkswagen Passat
Number of Vehicles:  4
Average User MPG:  39.1
Range:  35 - 45 MPG

They are using a larger diesel in the 2005 Passat. The older ones get better milage. I was a bit disappointed that they "upgraded"... the previous engine had plenty of go.  
   A small fuel economic car costs 16-20k last time I looked.

Hybrids are in the high thirties at least.  How much more fossil fuels go into producing a hybrid or is there no signifigant difference. I mean yeah they get good mileage but if that is overshadowed for the life of the vehicle by an initial chunk of emmisions has anything been accomplished?

Interesting that "high thirties" is the expectation, but I paid sticker ($22.4K) for my new Prius last year.
I just think that the current advantage of hybrids over Corollas/Civics is marginal--until we get mass produced plug-in hybrids, where the bulk of your trips can be on battery power (recharged with wind power in my case).
On an individual basis, people will buy whatever they want.  The way it affects their bottom line will depend their personal old car - new car experience.  If you already own a 30+ mpg car, there isn't much gain in going to a 40+ (or 50) mpg car.  On the other hand, if you are down at 20+ and due for a new car anyway, it might be fun to leap all the way to 40+.

On a national aggregate level the bottom line is how many people are going to stick with those 15-20 mpg SUVs.  Sure you and I may shave our gasoline costs, personally, but the nation as a whole doesn't change it's preparedness until the aggregate moves higher, to a fleet mileage up around 30 mpg.

Having some people choose those 40-50 mpg cars does help get the aggregate mpg up.

I bought a pristine 1982 Mercedes-Benz 240D (manual transmission) 72,800 miles (checked with mechanic for last 12 years, honest mileage) for$10.500.  White, my preferred color, sunroof, alloy wheels.

With synthetic lubes, 31 mpg city. 35 to 42 mpg highway (depending upon speed).

Superb handling, most durable car M-B ever built, it should be  my last car.  Perfect biodiesel car if I need to go that way.

My Peak Oil car (got 30 mpg with 8 hours of stop& go driving to evac Katrina) it required no new energy to build and I burned 6 gallons/month before Katrina.

Why get an Insight to save 2.5 gallons/month ?

And yet, even in Texas, high gas prices pushed people out of their SUVs and into hybrids:

I suspect it will be a long time before you see a real impact in the numbers, though.  It's not like a traded-in SUV vanishes.  It gets sold to someone else.  Possibly at a huge discount, but it stays on the road.

We face the same situation with houses.  

If someone sells their $500,000 McMansion to some unsuspecting victim and moves to small energy efficient housing along a mass transit line in a New Urbanism community, the $500,000 McMansion doesn't disappear; it just continues to lose value--at a rate far faster than the loan is being paid off (assuming that the principal is even being reduced, which seems increasingly rare these days).


The real estate market really illustrates what a Ponzi scheme our whole system is.  Investments in real estate only increase if the population increases.  Someone has to be willing to buy your small house before you can move up to a bigger one.     Sure, some houses are destroyed, and some people own more than one, but overall, it's population growth that drives the real estate market.  
My unscientific impression of Sweden is that the housing market is driven by three things.

Urbanization, people moving into lare cities or towns with good communication to large cities.

A counter current of people moving out of the large cities and towns to nearby countryside to raise horses, have a villa with a garden and so on, they often move back to central flat when they get old.

And people wanting bigger and better housing in general.

Large parts of our country have a nearly dead market where houses often are used as summer cottages and the industry is farming or forestry and there are new houses more or less following a random scattering of tourist attractions, paper mills and small industries started by some genious liking his part of the country and then employing the surrounding villages making some kind of product.

The population growth is small and most of it is not to well integrated immigrants who most often live fairly dense in cities.

My point is that a growing real estate market requiers that some areas are atractive. It does not realy matter if the overall movement is a dispersal into suburbia or a contraction into urban areas. The unatractive areas will then die out, such is life and it is not the end of the market.

Then there are cultural differences, it has for a long time puzzled me why there are so few unmaintained ruinous houses in my country. It seams like disrepair is soon followed by a new owner that repairs or tears down the house. As if its regarded as shamfull to let capital rot unused and better to destroy it quicky and plant some trees if no use can be found for it.

I beg to disagree.

Much of the housing boom has been driven by "second homes".  Clearly a growing part of the real estate scene in New Orleans pre-Katrina and "snowbirds" in Phoenix as two examples.

Some, as investments, buy a "weekend" home FAR out in the exurbs here in PHX and commute 4 days/week from a smaller, closer in home.

And multiple homes is just part of the wealthy lifestyle.

High interest rates, hard recession, and many people might just move back into just one home.

Finally, something I know about.  I've owned real estate for a living for many years, and I'm now shedding buildings just as fast as I can.  I think all of the above are factors.  Other big drivers in the housing boom are:

  • artificially low interest rates
  • easy credit for underqualified or unqualified people
  • investors moving to real estate from equities when markets were tanking three years ago.
Yeah, these factors repeat in my experience, and in my reading, as well.
The book "Irrational Exuberance" talks about how the housing boom is something happening world-wide, and not just (as we often percieve) in the US.

In fact, the book makes a good case that the boom is fiercest in "international cities" - cities connected by travel and value networks.  There isn't one single, local, reason that drives it all.

The bubble grows as city-traveling, world-traveling, people see prices go up all around them.  They may recognize it as a bubble (they often do) but they want to make money on the way up.

When the bubble ultimately deflates (fast or slow) it will only all as far until that network of people again consider prices "cheap" and buy again.  That resistence level will be determined of course by other aspects of economic health at the time.  Given high employment the support level could be high.  Given an oil-shock recession, it could be low.

Should be "will only [fall] as far"
This reality had begun to penetrate the American collective consciousness and will be represented in 2006 by millions of individual choices to not buy a new suburban house, either because the individuals fear the expense of long commutes or they fear the cost of heating a 4000 square foot house occupied by only a few people (or both). As the inventory of unsold new houses mounts up, the prices of all houses, new and old, will start to go down. There will be enormous psychological resistance to this reality, expressed in a lag of correct pricing, as the owners of these value-shedding "investments" wait for the bubble behavior (anticipated 10 to 20 percent asset appreciation) to return. Eventually they will get the picture.


I get a "Permission Denied" on this URL you link to:

Is that my fault?

No it was mine - the admin should not be in there.  I've fixed it in the story.
Stuart, I look forward to seeing your comment on the monthly production figures. But I would lover it if you included a graph with a 12 month average and change y-o-y on the 12m average.

Could you start doing this? IMO a drop in 12m avg production would be a big piece of evidence in the PO "trial".

Thank you

should be love it, not lover. OK?
Nothin happenin here in southland.
Have seen one or two prius.
Building craze in full swing-  godforsaken "portrait homes" going up ike mushrooms, huge shopping centers going up 12 miles outside city surrounded by "townhomes."
Lots of SUV's and big trucks.
Mention peak oil and they look at you like a rabid wombat.
In the land of the 'rabid wombat', sales of SUV's dropped 4% in February 2006 and 13% in the past year, see govt stats:
Well I reckon all the SUV/trucks I see are people jus hangin on to the old ones.  At an intersection this a.m. I counted 42+ at a 2 minute traffic lite.  Not scientific, tho interesting.  
I got a thing in the mail about Mercedes introducing their "biggest" SUV.  Too bad some are still pointed in that direction.  I realize that the rich can afford to burn a lot of gas, but it would be nice if the Mercedes A-class was introduced here, and managed to be "cool."

Traffic Congestion & Immigration (From an Immigration Reform Website):


As population grows, driven largely by immigration levels that add more than one million new residents to the United States each year, more traffic crowds our roadways. We pay the price in damage to our environment and quality of life.

The average urban driver spent 62 hours sitting in traffic in 2000, compared to just 16 in 1982--an increase of 288 percent.

More than half of major roads are crowded during rush hour, up from a third in 1982.

Two out of every five urban interstate miles are congested with traffic at volumes that result in significant delays.

The proportion of urban interstate miles that are considered congested increased from 33 to 41 percent from 1996 to 2001.

The Texas Transportation Institute's annual study of traffic congestion in 75 urban areas found that in 2000 rush hours lasted longer and were more extensive than the previous year and cost the country $68 billion a year. These costs were due to from 3.6 billion hours of delay and 5.7 billion gallons of wasted fuel.

Aside from time wasted and fuel consumed, traffic can have larger economic consequences, such as affecting a city's ability to attract new business. Traffic congestion in Atlanta has become so bad that the Chamber of Commerce called it the greatest threat to the city's economic prosperity.6 As traffic worsens, cities often have to turn to taxpayers for funding for additional roads.

Increased traffic means higher greenhouse gas emissions, degraded local and regional ecosystems, and damage to natural habitats and species.

That's as good a reason as any for congestion pricing

Regarding your graph of vehicle miles travelled per gallon of supplied gasoline.

I believe the change in mpg on that chart is accurate.  I have been tracking my gas milage for 25 years in a variety of vehicles.  I always get worse gas milage in the winter, all vehicles.  My Prius has a larger drop in MPG than my Toyota pickup but they are almost identical as a percent of summer milage.  It is always around 10% less in winter.

A nation wide drop of 2.5 mpg sounds right for a fleet averaging around 20-25 mpg.

Reasons for drop are, cold starts, cold greases in drive train, more resistance due to cold dense air, and maybe reformulation of fuel.  The end result is a lot more fuel burned to go the same distance.

Does this make overall GDP look better in winter all things being equal?

That's absolutely right.  There's no need to hypothesize changing traffic patterns.  In a comparison for my own car, Jan-Feb fuel efficiency has been 15% worse than July-Aug efficiency over 3.5 years, with long trips excluded.  And it's seldom below freezing where I live.  
The marked seasonal effect very likely also is due to the lower fuel efficiency in general of winter driving.  This is due to several factors; increased friction on road surfaces (ice, gravel), longer warm-up times, and use of more volatile, less energy-dense fuels in winter, which typically include higher a portion of relatively low Btu  oxygenates in fuels. I regularly find that I get several mpg less in the winter than in the summer.
I think the graph "Vehicle miles traveled per gallon of supplied gasoline" is very interesting.

Does the tight correlation reinforce my old concern that VMT is being back calculated from gallons sold?  Maybe to me, I don't expect anyone else to sign onto that one right now.

I do think it shows that we can just go with gallons sold to measure both driving activity and a hint for consumer confidence and economic activity.  There isn't a real need to go from gallons to VMT for that kind of thing.

The annual gasoline numbers are:

2000  3,100,774
2001  3,142,660 (+1.35%)
2002  3,229,459 (+2.76%)
2003  3,261,237 (+0.98%)
2004  3,332,579 (+2.19%)
2005  3,330,805 (-0.05%)


In regard to "signs of the peak," have you considered plotting world crude + condensate, less Canadian oil production from tar sands?   The goal of course is to get a better idea of conventional crude production from oil fields, with the least "contamination" from other sources.

I would use tar sands as our proxy for nonconventional, since it is the most truly nonconventional and since the numbers are most easily obtained (if you have to mine it or use steam injection, that is certainly nonconventional).  

BTW, the WSJ yesterday, and the NYT, today, had stories on tar sands.  Notwithstanding some wild speculation in some quarters (the head of Shell Canada) about reserves, the best case for tar sands about 10 years hence appears to be an increase from about one mbpd to about three mbpd.  Note that the EIA (erroneously) predicted that total Canadian oil production would increase by 700,000 BOPD from 2003 to 2005 (it actually fell slightly).  

The WSJ story somehow managed to omit discussing where the water was going to come from or how much NG was being used. They simply monetized the production side at $30 per barrel and declared it good. It wasn't clear how much environmental mitigation, if any, was included in the $30 figure.

As I posted in another thread yesterday... the environmental impact will be precedent setting. What might it portend for our domestic (U.S.) coal regions?  

Not just coal.  We have our own oilsands, and we're looking to Canada to show us the way...
Yeah - one reason I haven't bothered separating out oil sands (and Venezuelan extra heavy) is that they seem like small and fairly slowly changing percentages of the whole - so I don't think the signal without them would be much different than the signal with them.
Lots of good comments here, as always, about cars.

One thing I've been thinking about is the assumptions that go into buying a car, or a company offering a lease on one.  Many of those assumptions, at least for some classes of vehicle, are about to be revealed to be wrong.  Witness the dropping resale prices on pickups and SUV's; I expect that trend to turn into a bloodbath once US gasoline prices rise above, say, $3.50 or $4.  By the time we're at $5 to $6, people will be using HUMMERS as planters on their front lawns.

I've been telling friends that if they need a car they should either buy the cheapest, most fuel efficient thing that will serve their needs (a used Civic, a new Scion xA), or if they truly need something larger and less fuel efficient, to lease (thereby letting the car company take the risk of a residual value plummet).

One area that I think will yield some significant fuel savings in time is the two-car household.  There are lots of households that currently have kids and need (or think they need) a minivan, but their second vehicle is a Focus, Civic, Sentra, etc.  Many of those households will be able to switch the car over to an all-electric when they're widely available in a few years, as well as shift more of their driving away from the gasoline-powered minivan to that vehicle.  Using the electric car for errands and commuting would have almost zero impact on their lifestyles, and save money, fuel, and pollution.

Where I live, near Rochester, NY, I saw this kind of load balancing when gasoline prices hit $3 last year.  There was a conspicuously lower percentage of light trucks on the road than just a few weeks earlier.  People were also driving noticeably slower.

"Mr. Scott added that Ford's research showed people won't start to change their pickup purchasing decisions until fuel prices consistently stay above $3 a gallon."  From the piece cited above by Leann re: trucks in Texas.  

Also note Don Sailorman's speculation above that elasticity of demand may change dramatically at higher gas prices.  That seems right to me.   It's not so much the price per gallon as the price per fill-up that seems to have a psychological impact.   At 15 gallons purchased, it takes gas at $3.33 to make it cost $50.  That could be an important inflection point in demand.   Also, at $5/gallon the cost of a 15 gallon fill-up goes to $75, maybe another psychological point.

An interesting piece of information, Stuart, would be the projected price of gas at different prices of crude.   I would assume that crude would need to be about $75/barrel to get gas to $3.33 and about $130/barrel to get to $5.  Does anyone know a formula?

I tried to do this a few months back and was somewhat rudely received.  I won't post the link.

Suffice it to say that I found that the price of gasoline should go up more than the corresponding price rise in crude, since it is generally the highest-demand product from a barrel and only about half the crude can be turned into gas.  Thus it is not accurate to say that $130/barrel = $5 gas if $3.33 = $75 crude.

Probably the best way to come up with a reasonable gas/crude pricing model (not what I previously did) would be to use historical NYMEX spot prices of gasoline and crude, and compare the relationship between delta crude and delta gasoline for different date ranges, and make a regression or some other forecast based on that, adding in taxes at the end to give pump price.

Also, in fairness I should note that my previous model was wrong (aren't all models) and probably quite a bit off the mark in terms of accuracy as it can't predict the current gas price based on crude prices.

If someone else has easy access to the historical NYMEX data (say 2 or 3 years' worth) and can get it to me or point me to it I can try to do the delta crude - delta gas thing.

Historically (last 25 but last year or two) diesel is more expensive than gasoline in the winter and cheaper in the summer, regardless of the price of oil.

The sum of product prices for a barrel and the cost of a barrel is known as the "crack spread".  The value added by refining.

Gasoline's share of the crack spread varies seasonally and with other market forces.

So there is no good reason that $XX for a standard barrel of light sweet crude should correspond to a certain price for gasoline.  Instead it should correspond to a range of prices, perhaps a range 20¢ wide or so.

Probably anybody's model, or simple ratio, is good enough for a guess.  Given the range of factors (and your 20¢ range is as good as any), nobody is going to get it dead on.
If anyone can predict the price of a gallon of gas within 20¢ when oil is $150 a barrel that is a huge success.
  With this discussion of demand elasticity for gasoline and car travel, I am interested in a related topic, demand elasticity for air travel. One would think air travel is more discretionary, for leisure and business travel as well as freight. While the majority of our oil use does not come from air travel, I wouldn't be surprised to see a drop in air travel precede auto travel declines. While the airline industry is doing everything it can to shield its customers from increased fuel costs by wringing other expenses out of their business and hedging fuel costs, they are getting close to the end of what they can do there. Is the total number of air miles something we can track? I would be interested in following its trends. This is particularly interesting here in San Diego where the debate about the need for a new airport is steadfastly ignoring this issue.


Mother Earth News has an interesting article on NEVs (neighborhood electric vehicles).  These are "street legal" on roads with posted speed limits 25-35 mph and below.  Range is typically 25-50 miles and charging times are from several hours to overnight.  Cost seems to be 9000-12000 USD.  Operating costs are proported to be about 0.01 USD per mile; roughly one eighth of a honda civic.  Batteries are warrantied for two to four years depending on the mode, with replacement batteries approximately 500-1000 USD.

Of course, the trips for which this vehicle makes sense are also the one for which bicycles are ideal.

Here's the link.
I'd have a hard time getting from here to there if I was restricted to streets with a posted limit of 35 mph or less.  A top end of 45 mph seems more practical given the need to go beyond the neighborhood to access most goods and services today.  The streets that are 35 or less around here are high-density-residential only.

I do like the concept though.  Ever notice how many cars on the road have a single passenger?  My wife and I sometimes count.  I'll bet the ratio is 8:1, and I'll bet most of them are travelling less than 25 miles around town.

Unlike the cars featured in the article, the Zap Xebra will have a top speed of 40 mph and a range of 40 mi.
Yeah, Liz, and as I've mentioned before, that design is deadly on slick streets in a crosswind. It should come with a funeral wreath rather than a hood ornament, I fear.
Note that the restrictions on NEVs to 35mph and under streets are legal restrictions.  Bicyclists are free to use many of the streets that NEVs are illegal on.  NEVs are about as fast as casual bicyclists, so there isn't much justification for preventing them from using those streets except that they may slow down fossil-fuel motorists.

If the first-class citizen status of fossil-fuel motorists falls, eventually the restrictions on NEV use may drop as well.

I'd rather have a bike, so I can ride on the sidewalks and other bike paths.  (Yes, I know, it's safer to ride on the street than on the sidewalk.  But I like to have the option.)  An electric bike that doesn't go faster than 20mph is legally a bicycle.  
I've ridden bicycles on sidewalks since I was six years old and taught my kids to do the same.

Riding on sidewalks in cities or towns is way way safer than riding a couple of feet from motorized traffic.

Now Sailorman never advocates anything illegal;-), but I always taught my kids, safety first, and if the Bike Patrol or somebody hassles you about riding on the sidewalk, just be contrite and promise not to do it again . . . at least when the Bike Patrol is around.

Of course in crowded downtowns you walk your bike on the sidewalk for a few blocks, but my experience has been that 99% of the time you have the sidewalk to yourself, and cops drive by and ignore you as you prudently ride the sidewalks of major cities.

How not to get hit by cars

1. Don't ride on the sidewalk. When you come off the sidewalk to cross the street you're invisible to motorists. You're just begging to be hit if you do this. Keith Vick was killed this way in Austin, TX in Dec. 2002.

Riding on the sidewalk is several times more dangerous than riding on the street

Multi-use trails have a crash rate about 40% greater than would be expected based on the miles cycled on them while cycling on the sidewalk is extremely dangerous.

Risk of Sidewalk and Wrong-way Riding

Bicyclists who habitually ride on the sidewalk and across crosswalks are more at risk than those who ride on adjacent roadways. A 1994 study in California compared the accident rate per mile of sidewalk riding compared to the accident rate for road riding (on the same roads) and found that the rate for sidewalk accidents was 1.8 times greater (Wachtel and Lewiston 1994).

The same California study found that the relative risk of riding the wrong way (against traffic) was 3.6 times as high for those riding with traffic. In Hunter et al. 1996, about 1/3 of all bicyclists hit by cars were riding against traffic. The Boston study found that about ¼ of all cyclists hit were riding against traffic.

Riding on the sidewalk opposite the flow of traffic is more than 4 times as dangerous as riding on the road with the flow of traffic. The California study found that this risk was 4.3 times greater than riding on the road with the direction of traffic.

Contrary to intuition, cyclists riding on bicycle paths (now called "shared use paths") have a higher crash rate than cyclists riding on roads, although not as high a crash rate as cyclists riding on sidewalks (Aultman-Hall and Kaltenecker 1998). The risk of injuries on paths compared to roads has been calculated as 40%, 80%, and 260% higher (Moritz 1998, Aultman-Hall and Kaltenecker 1998, Kaplan 1976). Some of the increased risk may be explained by the greater likelihood of inexperienced cyclists to use paths or sidewalks (Aultman-Hall and Adams 1998). However, the studies of bicycle club members, who are much more experienced than average cyclists, reveal a higher crash rate on paths even for these riders.


Did you know Keith Vick personally? I used to take him and his brother fishing with my sons. 30 years ago. I had no idea he was deceased.

No, I did not know him personally.  The only reason I know his name is that he's become something of a poster child for the "don't ride on the sidewalk" safety campaigns.
I just takes a little time on a bike, being observant, to sort things out.

What they really don't want is people riding fast on a sidewalk.  A bike can kill a person, especially a child, at "normal" riding speeds.

I ride streets with bike lanes first choice, wide streets with no bike lanes as the second choice, quiet streets as third choice, and only if things feel dangerous do I slow down and get up on the sidewalk.

Maybe I'd adjust my routine in another city, but that works for me around here.

And of course you can't zone out on a bike.  You have to be alert.  When on the sidewalk look around for the car that is about to fly into every driveway.

Should be "It just takes ..."
You get careless, you die. That is true in biking, motorcycling, flying, sailing, and stepping into bathtubs.

Obviously, if you are riding on a sidwalk and then ride out into the path of a truck/car/train/bus your odds are not good.

The Hiawatha Line Light Rail hit another SUV a few days ago--and why? Not because the SUV driver was obeying the law.

I've seen bikers ride drunk, ride much too fast on trails, deliberately ride close to pedestrians to intimidate them, etc. None of this proves that riding on trails or sidewalks is less safe than riding on a narrow strip alongside traffic going maybe 65 m.p.h. with drivers often on cell phones.

Remember, Leanan, the three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies, and statistics. And as we all know, correlation does not imply causation.

the three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies, and statistics. And as we all know, correlation does not imply causation.

Great that yours original?

Don's older than we think, and used to be Prime Minister.
Well, now you've blown my cover!

To the best of my recollection, what Disraeli actually said was:

"There are three kinds of liars: Liars, damn liars, and statisticians!"

The anti-sidewalk-bike-riding campaigns may make no distinction between a seven-year-old kid going to the ER for a couple of stitches on her knee and a guy blown off the road by a semi who suffers multiple fractures. Also, the fallacy of unknowable statistics is clearly at work, because how the heck can you figure out how many miles (or hours) for each type of accident under each kind of condition? But worst of all is the obvious bias that the first 10,000 miles are the most dangerous you ride, and these beginners are disproportionately going to be doing things that violate the law--such as riding on sidewalks or riding facing traffic. Thus it is not because they are violating the law that they get in trouble but rather they get in trouble because they know not enough about safe riding--and incidentally happen to be riding on sidewalks (or whatever) when they have an accident.

I think Leanan and Don are both right.  Bike paths, streets and sidewalks can all be ridden safely or dangerously.  The key is to act appropriate to your place.

Sidewalks are quite safe (although still illegal in many places) if one rides like a pedestrian, ie, ride at walking speed.  What makes them dangerous on a bike is that it is easy to go faster and if a sidewalk has a clear open stretch one is likely to go faster.  If one neglects to reduce back to walking speed as one approaches a doorway or intersection, etc. then accidents are quite likely.  Many, especially children, don't have this discipline and many get hurt on sidewalks which is why I expect statistically that sidewalks are more dangerous than streets for bicyclists.

I've built my own high performance electric bike on which I can ride at 35+ mph.  I've learned that this is only safe out in the middle of streets where vehicles are expected to be traveling at this speed.  In bicycle lanes, where visibility and clearances and expected speeds are all reduced, I must operate as a bicycle and keep my speed below 20 mph.

I've been debating four-wheel pedaled vehicles or two-wheel tandems as a neighborhood vehicle for my (non-cyclist) wife and myself.  On either vehicle we could travel almost as fast as those golf carts, and for far less money.
Does anyone know what is going on with Iran and the U.N.? I am almost embarrased to ask, but it has been very hard to find information on the current events. How is their oil borus going?
No Iranian oil bourse yet.  They are having logistical difficulties.

In the meantime, Qatar has announced their own bourse.  It will presumably trade in dollars, like the others, and may make an Iranian bourse superfluous.

Naturally, the conspiracy-minded types suspect the U.S. of engineering this, to block the Iranian oil bourse and protect the petrodollar.

As for the rest, it's slowly working is way through the system.  I believe they are still working on the "Russia enriches uranium for Iran" plan.

Looking more at the yearly data, and refreshing my memory about things we all might know at the back of our minds ...

It's interesting to note that gasoline use (in absolute terms) grew fairly steadily through the 70's, to 2,705,308 barrels in 1978.  The oil crisis(es) caused a reduction, in real terms (not just reducing growth) to a low of 2,386,824 barrels in 1983.  It actually to 10 more years, to climb back above the 1978 level of consumption, to 2,728,850 barrels in 1993.

All told it was a 15 year down-cycle in gasoline use.

So obviously, with higher gas prices, we can do that again ;-/

That period also saw the building of BART in the Bay Area, DC Metro, starter mass transit lines in San Diego, St. Louis, Miami, Atlanta, Portland (perhaps more). the dramatic improvement in the NYC subways (from memory).

Did these account fro all of the decline ?  NO !

But they accounted fro some of it.

I have seen claims that those urban areas with new mass transit use less oil than a direct comparision of oil substituion for riders would account for.  The mostly commonly ascribed factor for these hidden savings is changes in the development patterns of the city due to this new factor, mass transit.

Per capita oil use in urban areas with established, wide spread mass transit (NYC, Boston, Philly, Chicago) are typically much less than their peers elsewhere in the US.

It appears that the new homes sales bubble is bursting. But the massive sales increases have been going on for some time now. And as I pointed out, most of these new sales have been in Exurbia.
The Commerce Department reported Friday that sales of new single-family homes dropped by 10.5 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual sales pace of 1.08 million homes.

It was the second straight monthly decline, following a 5.3 percent fall in January, and marked the biggest one-month drop since April 1997....

A crash in home prices is seen as one of the biggest threats to economic growth. Some analysts are worried that five straight years of record home sales, fueled by the lowest mortgage rates in a generation, spurred a speculative fever in housing similar to the forces that created a bubble in stock prices in the late 1990s.

He said that some of the hottest sales markets in areas such as California, Nevada, Arizona and California could see a bigger slowdown because a larger percentage of that sales activity has been driven by investors who might start dumping houses back on the market.

By sector of the country, sales were down by the largest amount last month in the West, a drop of 29.4 percent in February. Sales fell 6.4 percent in the South but they rose 12.7 percent in the Northeast and 5.2 percent in the Midwest.

The signal is mixed but that number in the West is staggering.

More exurban communities, more VMT. Assuming that people are actually living in those houses in the middle of nowhere and driving to work, we might expect VMT to continue to show month-on-month increases in the future. But if people start dumping those houses and moving to places closer in to where they work, all bets are off. Higher gas prices would just amplify the effect. If the housing market really does go belly up, we might be looking at a recession. This might affect VMT in the opposite direction.

Stuart, I can't remember--have you done an analysis of how VMT has been affected during recessions?

Yes.  The operative conclusion is that it goes down in a sufficiently strong recession, especially if the latter is oil-shock triggered.  However, it nevers goes down by much.  VMT appears to be much less elastic in the long-term than oil usage (since people start driving more efficient cars and fuel switching for non-transport uses).

This was the important graph from that analysis:

I beleive the 2005 number was only through August.

Strange that this shows a one-time dip in VMT in the late 70's, but we know that US gasoline sales volume in barrels continued to fall into the 80's.  The low in 1983 was almost 12% off the previous high in 1978.

If that's true, with an increasing VMT, that is good news for the adaptability of the fleet, yes?

Interesting, when I use the year end numbers for VMT and gallons of gasoline I get a very suspicious result for yearly average MPG:

Year    Mil. Miles    Thou. Barrels    MPG
2000    2746925    3100774    21.09
2001    2795610    3142660    21.18
2002    2855508    3229459    21.05
2003    2890450    3261237    21.1
2004    2962491    3332579    21.17
2005    2966895    3330805    21.21


The trend looks about right.  The absolute numbers are too high, but that's because of the diesel powered miles included in the VMT.  To do a better job, you'd need to somehow correct for that.  On an annual basis, this should be possible at least reasonably accurately since there's breakdowns on types of vehicles available.
I guess my question is why, as "peak oilers" we need to translate the accurate gasoline sales numbers into VMT at all.

(Coming as they do from tax receipts, the gallons are going to be the most closely tracked numbers available.  That's revenue, baby.)

If we are concerned with energy intensity, we can work that with barrels and GDP.  If we are interested in the consumer response to higher gasoline prices, we should again see that directly in the gallons, or barrels.  After all, who are we to care if Bob down the street reduces his consumption by driving less or by trading cars?

From the peak oil survivablity perspective, we want to know how fast gasoline consumption can change, and how "coupled" that change is to measures of economic pain (unemployment, changes in real income, savings, etc.).

I put a funny face (;-/) on the observation that we did cut our gallons in the 80's.  It's a grimace becase we did it by a combination of vehicle improvement, and some economic pain.

Especially if we think the national average MPG has been stuck at 21 for the last five years ... we can look at gallons to see what people (as an aggregate) are going to do next.

Well we do want to know that because: 1) building cars uses substantial amounts of oil 2) cars have environmental, including global warming, impacts far beyond peak oil and depletion; and 3) how society responds to Peak Oil and other related critical events (e.g. Global Warming and trade and monetary imbalances) may depend in some part of whether they drive cars, take transit, or stick closer to home. The solution is not principally in using an alternate fuel.
I asked why VMT and not gallons, or barrels, of gasoline.

You answer:

  1. building cars - cannot be deduced from VMT
  2. global warming - closer relation to gallons (stoichiometry)
  3. how society responds - ultimately matters in the gallons

To expand on #3, if we reduce our gallons consumed as a nation by 20%, that's a win ... no matter how we do it.
BTW, I think we will have to see our aggregate national MPG improve over time.  And over longer spans (decades) looking at how VMT and MPG relate might be useful ...

but in terms of detecting consumer change in the short term: 2006, or 2007 ... gallons is all we need track.

We know that aggregate MPG cannot change on a dime.

And as you have pointed out, gallons sold based on tax receipts is far more reliable a number than estimation of VMT.
Mainly because the ratio has not been fixed in the past (vehicles got much more efficient after the 1970s), and the VMT seems to have income elasticity damn close to 1, and price elasticity not too far from zero (magnitude less than 0.1 anyway).  It seems in practice to have been a moderately decent proxy for "economic activity" in the past.  So I think it's interesting to separate out the effects on VMT from fuel efficiency, which multiplied together form the transportation oil demand.  Fuel efficiency is hopefully about to start to rise again now, though obviously there's not much sign of any meaningful effect so far.
Using that same method, the increase from 1980 to 1990 was 15.04 to 19.36 mpg.  That is pretty good ... 30% over a decade.  But again it was paired with some economic pain.  No pain no gain?
Stuart do you have any idea what the lag time between the drop in VMT and recession as declared by the economic poobahs in Cambridge is? I note that gold price rises are an eleven month signal for oil price spikes, excluding asymetrical political events (I'll e-mail the citation) .
Oil is rising again.

Supposedly on concerns about Nigeria.

Shell says not eager to restore oil production in Nigeria

Royal Dutch Shell has said that it will not be eager to restore oil production in Nigeria, though three foreign hostages working for one of its subcontractors were on Monday released unharmed by militants there.

    The abductors, on their parts, had reiterated threats of more attacks in the delta, the oil industry heartland in Africa's biggest oil exporter, despite the release of the three Westerners, including two Americans and a Briton, who had been held hostage for more than one month.

    Shell "is happy that the hostages are freed and we expect them to rejoin their families soon. We are currently assessing the security situation and will decide when it is safe for our workers and contractors to return to work sites in the western Niger Delta," a company spokesman told Xinhua.

It's always hazardous to make a prediction 24 hours before the data come out, but I think that we should start taking a very hard look at the weekly import numbers--or at least the running average.  As I have pontificated on before, I think that the immediate crisis we are going to see is declining net export capacity, as consumption in the exporting countries increases and as their production falls.  

Case in point:  Russia, where car sales are up 15% year over year, while production growth is up only 1.5% year over year (versus about 11% three years ago).

This really raises an interesting question.  Are we going to see migrations from net energy consuming regions to net energy producing regions--both within the US and on a worldwide basis?  And would this accelerate the fall in net export capacity as the population and economic activity in the net producing regions increases dramatically?   Could we see a 50% drop in net oil export capacity in a matter of years?

California (soon) and the UK (now) are prime examples of the problem with being on the end of the natural gas distribution system.  In both cases, you could make a pretty good case for moving east, young man.

The "Export Land" Model:

Assume a country producing 2.0 mbpd, consuming 1.0 mbpd, and exporting 1.0 mbpd.  

The country hits 50% of Qt, and over a five year period, production drops by 25%, from 2.0 to 1.5 mbpd.

Because of a growing population and a rapidly expanding economy, consumption increases by 10% over the five year period to 1.1 mbpd.  

Current net oil exports = production (1.5 mbpd) - consumption (1.1 mbpd) = 0.4 mbpd.

Therefore, because of a 25% drop in production and a 10% increase in consumption, net oil exports fell by 60%.  

I think that this is exactly what we are seeing now.  Consider the simple fact that the average family in Saudi Arabia has something like seven kids.  

I think you are soo right on this!
But I'm not that sure the US imports is the best marker.

Is there any way to look on this variable for the poor regions of our planet? The US $ is still to much wanted for imports to be available, third worlders would propably be the first ones to see falling imports when world exportable oil declines.
We sometimes hear about shortages and riots of gasoline in third world but it doesnt get much media, difficult to know much about the situation.

$66.16 and rising

You are right, but our situation is analogous to the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight.  He lost his keys down the street, but the light is better under the streetlight.  The problem is data quality in a lot of the poorer importing countries.  

However, in order to suck in oil away from other importing countries we are going to have to bid up the price.  So, I would expect to see a drop in imports, then an explosive increase in oil prices, then a temporary stabilization, with somewhat lower demand and better supply--and then imports drop again.

The point is that the net export supply is being squeezed from two directions--falling production on one side and increasing demand on the other side.  

I expect to see a 50% drop in net export capacity a long time before we see a 50% drop in total world oil production.

Crude oil today is ``preposterously cheap,'' said Matthew Simmons, chairman of Houston-based energy investment bank Simmons & Co. Crude oil prices are going to go higher ``because demand is starting to pull away from supplies,'' Simmons said.

I posted the above on a Houston message board, and one of the participants e-mailed me with a comment that a lot of people (with money) are thinking about getting out of the UK.  
I got out of the UK in 2000 because I thought it would be one of the worst places to ride out a storm. Fortunately I didn't need a lot of money to do it as property prices there were so much higher than here that it was possible to trade a house in town there for a small farm here.
In Nigeria, Shell seems to caught between Scylla and Charybdis.  Actually, between an intractible and corrupt central govt. and a local tribe with serious and legitimate gripes on both environmental and economic grounds.   Maybe the smartest thing Shell can do is just back off until the central govt. starts to treat the tribe's problems with respect (which might never happen, granted).   In any event, it does not look to me like a problem that is about to be solved rapidly.

Meanwhile, between that sort of issue, the terrorism threats, and the very real issue that westtex identifies of rising internal demand for energy consumption inside OPEC and Russia causing significant reductions in exports, we may be facing a sort of "de facto" Peak Oil situation for the oil importing world that is quite separate from and prior to the Hubbert calculated physical peak.

How right you are. Nigeria is a really serious problem now. I've always considered the peak to be the maximum daily production that is never exceeded. It doesn't really matter why because so many variables determine that number in terms of X/mbpd. I usually just throw all these factors into the equation.
  • Geopolitics, as in Nigeria
  • Internal politics affecting NOCs & production
  • Cost of and delays in new development of new "plays" because they're harder to produce due to any number of factors
  • The decline rate for older, giant existing fields
  • The decline rate due to the nature of the fields being produced (eg. deepwater)
  • The amount of investment being put into E&P and whether the EROEI is sufficiently positive--this depends on the size of the proved reserves, price and politics.
Taken all together, these seem to be the primary variables that affect what the value of X is. Right now, it is shy of 85/mbpd. Big reserve number claims as in Saudi Arabia or for the Canadian tar sands impress me not at all.
Two additional reasons for the variability of mileage:
  1. In winter/cold or wet weather car mileage is significantly lower, especially for short trips.
  2. People with 2 cars would prefer to drive the bigger one in cold/bad weather and the smaller one in summer
There are those who think the Western Europe will lose a sunstantial portion of its political independence because of our growing reliance on Russian oil and gas. How much "freedom" do countries without energy really have? That's going to be a central question in the coming decadesa and probably far sooner. Europe is especially vunerble now that North Sea oil production is declining so rapidly.

It would appear that Europe has a lot of hard choices to make in the near future. One could argue that Europe is in a double bind. On the one hand we need Russian oil and gas. On the other side we are reliant on the United States to protect oil supplies from the Middle East. Will they be willing to carry on this relationship indefinitely if we don't send substantial military forces to help them out?

Unless the bottom falls out of the world's economy Europe will be importing around 94% of our oil and 84% of our gas. Clearly we will have to remain on reasonable terms with the countries that will be exporting to us. This is only natural.

The current group of European political leaders have been occupied with other areas and have left Europe in a very difficult position in regards to our energy needs. They have been asleep at the wheel.

Personally I think a global energy crisis arising from politics is far more likely to occur, and much sooner, than an energy crisis based on any lack of actual oil supplies. We are seeing the political/military consequences of Peal Oil now. For example the devastating consequences for Europe of an America attack on Iran and the possibility of the Gulf going up in flames. America could probably survive such an upheaval, but what of Western Europe which relies on the Gulf far more than the U.S.?

What of the balance of power between West and East? What about a richer, more powerful and assertive Russia? We've got used to a weak and malleable Russia. Putin is not Yeltsin. How will the United States react to Europe moving closer to Russia? Does any of this really matter now we are all friends? But how long will we all remain friends?

Already in Europe there is a growing ground swell of "anti-americanism" among ordinary Euopeans. It's not really aimed at ordinary Americans, just American politicians and the religious right. People in Europe just don't like or understand these aspects of american life and culture. Europe is moving away from the United States culturally and politically, and the debacle in Iraq has only made things worse and speeded up this historical shift towards the East. Where it will all end is anybody's guess.

The report on climate change in The Independent
UK yesterday included this:

In The Independent today, their leader, Colin
Challen, the chairman of the All-Party
Parliamentary Climate Change Group, sets out the
case for abandoning the "business as usual"
pursuit of economic growth, which has been the
basis of Western economic policy for two hundred
years. Instead, he says, we must concentrate
our efforts on putting a limit on the emissions
of carbon dioxide (CO2) from power stations and
motor vehicles that are causing the atmosphere
to warm.



It's a small beginning, but at least it is
recognition that the present economic system
cannot deliver the outcomes necessary for the
long term survival of the human race (or even
a portion of it).

Presumably the US will eventually follow the
lead of Europe, if we have not melted the planet
in the meantime.

Presumably the US will eventually follow the lead of Europe, if we have not melted the planet
in the meantime.

Don't hold your breath.  The U.S. is still in deep denial.  Probably half the country denies that global warming exists.  

RE: fuel efficiency.  I recently bought a new Suburu rated at 22/26 mpg.   So far I seem to be getting 18/23.
I'm happy with my Corolla.  It gets more or less the mileage claimed.  About 30 city, 40 highway.  Bliss after my aging Ford Taurus, which never got anywhere near the mileage claimed, even when new.
As always it is a pleasure to study the posts.
Regarding mileage. In Europe today you can buy small diesel cars with particle filters- Peugeot, Renault, Opel, WV, Ford, Citroen, Fiat, Toyota, Honda, Hundai etc all have one weighing approx 2000 pounds- and doing +/- 57 mpg year around.They can all do 90 mph or more. 0-60 in 13-14 sec. Fine room for 2 adults+ 2 children. Small boot. Length 3.8-4.0 meter can park everywhere. This will be my new car.
No high tech, just a comparably lightweight construction with an 1.2- 1.5 liter almost smokeless diesel. All cars are crash tested  with excellent result, airbags, ABS,ESP, aircon etc. Who needs more? The CO2- emissions are in the range of 110-120g/km, which means that with 2-3 in each car the emissions are actually lower than train emissions per passenger km, giving all an opportunety to enjoy some transport flexibility on the downslope of the Hubbert Peak.

Could that not be a temporary  solution for the US?
My present car is an European made  1.2 liter 80 Hp
Gazoline car,2000 pounds, doing 39 mpg year average and doing 45 mpg /60 mph with a light foot on the pedal.

One mistake is to think that a US mpg is exactly equal to a UK  mpg. A US gallon is about 3.6 litres, whereas a UK gallon is just over 4.5 litres. You have to inflate US mpg figures or deflate UK mpg figures to get a meaningful comparison between the two. That means that US mpg figures for cars etc are not as bad as they seem.
I keep a little free program called "Convert" on my computer desktop:

Converts among almost all units known to man, and you can add your own if there are any you need that aren't included.

Very useful for these international discussions. :)

Just downloaded the program. Very useful. I carry a few things round in my head like 22 mph is 10 m per sec and 70kg is 154 lb is 11 stone. A stone as the main measure of human weight in the UK is probably thought of as weird by Americans. But it helps the grey cells in mentally converting between SI and imperial.
Thanks, I knew 2.2 kg = 1 lb, but now I can remember 2.2 mph = 1 m/sec, too.
This is usually easy to fix. Lay off the lead foot, shift when the manufacturer says to shift, don't drive over 55, don't carry anyone or anything extra, don't open your windows or use air conditioning, and don't drive in cold air. That's how the EPA conducts the tests, as required by law.
Almost never in the occasional car talk (I do sense a hate/love relationship here) do I see posts about biogas (Methane from landfills etc.). Its quite successful here in Sweden. Sometimes I need to go some distance on gasoline but is on close to 95% on biogas (occasionally on CNG as a substitute) on a varying daily commute of 40 to 150 km. Cost is about 65% of gasoline.
Now the big Volvo I love to drive is not optimal from the energy use perspective, but imagine a plug in hybrid running on biogas. Energy efficient and actually converting potentially worse GHG Methane from waste to CO2.

Dont you get this stuff in the states ???

I think nbsp biogas is used to generate electricity here in the US.
Sometimes my connection gobbles a word.  Well sometimes I mistype, but I checked that and it was sent as "most" and became "nbsp" down the wires somewhere.  Sorry.
Off topic, but looking for some quick ideas. I might be interviewed about this tomorrow by a local news outlet. What does everyone think of the impact of daylight savings on energy conservation. Ok, seriously stop laughing...what's the impact of extending it another month or two? It seems fairly marginal according to national geographic.
IMO, the MSM are always looking for some kind of proposal that makes it seem as if they are advocating socially responsible changes, while not challenging our underlying economic model, i.e. the advertising model, which consists largely of selling and servicing large houses and large vehicles.

I suggest that you advocate abolishing the highly regressive Payroll (Social Security + Medicare) Tax and replacing with a fossil fuel tax.  This will result in a gasoline tax of several dollars per gallon.  But it's only when, not if, that we are paying $5 plus per gallon.  

More info on tax proposal in the article that Khebab and I did:

I assume in conjunction with this you are advocating abolishing the Social Security and Medicare benefits programs?
No--just the funding source.  You might want to read the Energy Bulletin article.
I did read it.  But it was never clear to me from your article that you want to keep funding for those programs intact.

If you replace one tax with another, it does not necessarily follow that Congress will use that new funding stream in the same way as the old one.

Also you point out in your article that the Social Security tax and Medicare taxes are regressive.  I agree with this more for SS than for Medicare since there is a cutoff for SS.  But if that is the problem, why not just change the way those taxes are paid?  You could, for instance, allow people to get the first $25K of income free of SS taxes, and then remove the cutoff so that rich people continued paying all year.  Why does your proposal solve this specific problem better?

Let me be more clear since I am playing devil's advocate:

Is it possible that you are conflating your personal desire to eliminate/fix the regressive FICA assessments with the need for a gas tax in order to curb consumption and kickstart alternatives?  Shouldn't these be treated separately?

What might make more sense than extending the months of Daylight Saving Time is to do what the U.S. did in World War II and go to "Double" Daylight Savings Time, i.e., change by two hours instead of one. Apparently this change did have a significant impact on the consumption of electricity during World War Two in the U.S.
Also, I would present Alan's rail proposal in tandem with the fuel tax:

The sound bite version:

Electrify our frieght railroads like in Europe, Russia & Japan.  Use taxes, like the Swiss, to force most long distance freight from truck to rail.

Build all the Urban Rail that various US cities want ASAP instead of new highways.  Washington DC went from 4% bus commuters in 1970 to 40% public transit today (savings a half billion gallons of gasoline/year) by building 103 miles of subway.

Miami is building 103 miles of "Subway in the Sky" over the next 25 to 30 years.  Build it is eight or ten years.  Same for Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, San Jose, Los Angeles, St. Louis, etc.  Repeat DC over and over again.

Whenever I hear the term Daylight Savings I can't stop laughing. Seriously. My family can argue about it for hours. My plan is to extend the hours as well. You know, jump 2 hours  instead of just one.
Well, Sailorman already said that. One more person and we know we're in trouble.
Here's a chance to make some money off peak oil and all you need is a relatively small investment.

Suppose to start trading on Monday on the AMEX symbol USO.

Well, I guess it was just a matter of time until this appeared...maybe a better way of investing in oil futures.