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"Grow, peak or plateau - the outlook for car travel"

Link to University of West of England

"In the 1970s, official forecasts of road traffic included allowance for an eventual saturation level of car ownership, car use and total car traffic (the expected point when this would occur being the first decade of the 21st century). While indicators of a turning point in the long run trend of car traffic growth can now be seen to date from the early 1990s, the phenomenon itself both in terms of its appearance in various countries’ national statistics and its subsequent examination by commentators has been much more recent. It has quickly acquired the label ‘peak car’ which can present a problem of communication – to policymakers and other stakeholders. ‘Peak car’ suggests an interpretation that car travel has indeed peaked.

"This should not be taken as axiomatic - rather, the discussion took the label as a shorthand for confronting uncertainty over whether or not car travel has peaked and contemplating the available evidence base and plausibility of three future alternatives:
  • growing car travel
  • saturated car travel, or
  • declining car travel.

"Another matter that can be lost in translation is the distinction between car travel per capita and total car travel [particularly to up-market Brent Cross shopping centre].

It is the former that has been principally responsible for interest in the topic, because of its implication that if car travel per capita is going down then something is changing in terms of the underlying drivers of demand relating to behaviour. However, it is possible that per capita car use could decline while total car use (and hence traffic volume) might still continue to increase as a result of population growth.

"From a policymaking perspective the latter can have as much if not more importance for certain areas of policy and investment. Therefore car travel per capita and total car travel should be explicitly distinguished. A key element of discussion is whether the resulting totals should be taken as proportional to population or some other conversion factor, depending on locations where population grows and the policy context in those places."

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