A Long Bet on Peak Travel  

Posted by Big Gav in

The Long Now has a post on a bet on the advent of "peak travel" - Long Bet on Peak Travel.

One of the miracles of the modern world is our capacity for getting around – hop on a plane, nap a few hours, and you’re on the other side of a continent! Technologically enabled, we’ve embraced this ability with gusto and are currently more mobile a species than ever before. But, according to a pair of Stanford researchers, the industrialized world is mellowing on this trend a bit. They claim that travel in several countries may have peaked earlier this decade:
A study of eight industrialized countries, including the United States, shows that seemingly inexorable trends — ever more people, more cars and more driving — came to a halt in the early years of the 21st century, well before the recent escalation in fuel prices. It could be a sign, researchers said, that the demand for travel and the demand for car ownership in those countries has reached a saturation point.


A Long Bet placed in 02005 hinted at this potential, though it imagined a more dire mechanism: peak oil. While the necessary statistics to certify Long Bet 197 won’t be published for some time yet, they’ll come from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics and tell us whether highway vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. for 02010 exceeded those of 02005. The Bet is that they’ll actually be lower – essentially that Americans collectively drove less in 02010 than in 02005.

The scenario imagined by predictor Daniel Simon in 02005 was that an energy crisis brought on by peak oil production would push up the cost of personal motor vehicle travel enough to halt or reverse its growth. Glen Raphael was doubtful enough to put up the money for a Bet and explained he expected growth to continue. Read their full arguments at Long Bets.

According to the BTS table they provided as a reference for adjudication, total vehicle miles travelled in 02005 were 2,989,430. The most recent year published on that table is 02008 and it checks in at 2,973,509 – almost 20,000 miles fewer. So, we can’t finalize the Bet as of yet, but the data we’ve got is in line with the Stanford study as well as Simon’s prediction, despite a seemingly more mundane overall picture.

Check back in a year or two for the exciting conclusion! (Also, if you or someone you know works at BTS, let us know if we’ve missed more recent numbers.)


Bob Wallace   says 4:20 AM

As the world homogenizes there's less to be had by traveling.

Why cross the country just to see yet another road lined with the same old franchise stores and restaurants outside your door?

And if you make it to a historical site or natural wonder you'll likely find it super crowded and wrapped up in corporate logos.

Long time traveler - getting bummed out at what we've done to our world....

I know what you mean - but if you get away from the globalised cities there still seems to be some authentic culture left - you just have to go further to find it...

Bob Wallace   says 12:34 PM

The last few days I've been in a village outside Lampang Thailand for a family funeral. This is about as "further" as one can get in Thailand except for some minority tribe areas in the mountains (and they are becoming 'living museums').

Authentic now comes with blaring sound systems, cell phones, digital cameras, and hauling the body on the back of a pickup rather than the traditional carrying by the family and village.

No one walks. Lots of cars and pickups just like one sees everywhere else.

Funeral decorations are plastic flowers and lots of metal foil. People dress in western style with Nike and other brands well represented.

Still some authentic stuff in Myanmar and Laos, but it's fading there as well.

I expect travel to become much less about seeing or experiencing something different. We see the remaining exotic 24/7 on TV. We can find most types of food within a few miles of our houses.

Travel will be more about visiting family and a change of climate. Traveling to 'see the world' I expect to drop.

Long Now just links to the abstract, but you can get the study itself with a Google of the title. Interesting stuff - the ride share by mode chart is telling, only Japan were very big on bus/rail in 1970 and have been steadily motorizing themselves since, in step with the other nations in the group, although you can tell the UK and France have taken some initial steps in the other direction.

Hey Bob - well - I don't always consider technology and culture as being the same thing - but agreed that modern day transport, clothing and communications stuff is everywhere now.

FWIW, the challenger (me) won the bet. The DOT has released their December 2010 report and 2010 miles driven were indeed *slightly* higher than 2005.

Thanks for the update Glen.

Details about the final result here :


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