Vermonters drive 20 percent more than US average, but are seeking out alternatives

Vermont Business Magazine Between 2007 and 2013, American motorists significantly reduced the amount they drive, lowering their per capita vehicles miles traveled (VMT) from 10,050 annually to 9,452, a 6 percent decline. This downward trend was even more pronounced in Vermont, where it has fallen by 8.4 percent. Nevertheless, Vermont residents drive significantly more miles than their national counterparts and have fewer public transportation options, likely due to the state’s rural nature. Ranked 10th highest in the nation, Vermonters drove an average of 11,356 miles per capita in 2013 compared to the national average of just 9,452. But despite this need to drive 20 percent more than the national average, Vermonters since 2007 have curtailed their driving habits more than the average American. This decline in local driving is significantly more pronounced in Vermont than the drop seen in other rural states.

The University of Vermont’s Transportation Research Center collects driving statistics. For comparison purposes, the University considers the states of Maine, West Virginia, North Dakota and South Dakota to be so-called sister states to Vermont as they contain similar rural and other characteristics.
Combined, the average driver living in these sister states decreased their vehicle miles traveled 3.7 percent between 2007 and 2013, well below the decline seen in Vermont or in the US on average.

These data are found in the Annual Report of the Vermont Transportation Board, which was released today. The report documents the comments the Board received during a recent series of public forums that focused on the difficulties of navigating Vermont without a car and the transportation trends of middle-aged and older adults.

After researching both national and state driving trends, the Board conducted a series of six public forums that were held during the fall of 2015. The report documents that older Vermont adults, much like their younger counterparts, want to drive their cars less and walk, bike and use public transportation more often.

“Driving is on the decline nationwide, but what we found is that Vermonters are not just part of this trend, they are actually leading the charge,” said Transportation Board Chairman Nick Marro. “In just about every measurable category, Vermonters outpace the nation when it comes to walking, biking and curtailing the amount of time they spend behind the wheel. They also thirst for greater public transportation options.”

From the end of World War II until 2004, the number of miles the average American drove an automobile annually increased. But beginning in 2005, Americans reversed this trend. Between 2007 and 2013, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita nationwide dropped 6 percent, while per-capita VMT here in Vermont dropped 8.4 percent.

Across the nation, more Americans also walk and bike to work than they used to, with Vermonters also leading this charge. Nationally, workers commuting by bicycle increased 39 percent from 2005 to 2011, while bike commuting increased from 0.61 percent of the total population in 2011 to 0.63 percent, an additional 3.2 percent increase. In Vermont, despite the state’s harsh climate nearly 1 percent of the population biked to work as its primary mode of transportation between 2011 and 2013.

Vermonters also walk to work considerably more than average Americans. Nationally, workers commuting by foot increased by 20 percent from 2005 to 2009, while about 2.9 percent of all American walked to work between 2011 and 2013. In Vermont, 6.2 percent of workers walked to work during this same time period.

Not surprisingly, fewer Vermonters commute via public transportation largely because other states offer greater options than Vermont. However, use of local public transit is significantly on the rise as train travel is up 89 percent between 2005 and 2014, while other public-transit use (mostly riding buses) rose 6 percent between 2011 and 2014, and likely would have increased by 9 percent had Chittenden County not experienced a multi-week bus driver strike in 2014.

“The Board in 2014 researched and met with hundreds of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34, so we knew what they thought.” Marro said. “This year, we wanted to learn whether the transportation behavior of older Vermonters also was in synch with their national counterparts.

“What they told us is that they would like to live a lifestyle that is less dependent on an automobile, but that Vermont’s lack of car-free alternatives makes that difficult. Just like the millennials we talked to last year, older Vermonters want better public-transportation options as well as better walking and biking infrastructure that allows them to curb their driving.”

Vermonters at every stop the Board made said they want additional public transportation options that both run at convenient times and serve more Vermont communities, they desire safe bicycle facilities such as dedicated bike lanes in downtown areas and bike paths that connect destinations, and they want additional pedestrian facilities like sidewalks that connect their homes to nearby restaurants and shops.

“Vermonters young and old told us they want more transportation options,” Marro said. “Owning a car is expensive and environmentally harmful. Many want to reduce the amount they drive, while some families want to be able to own just one car instead of two. But to do this, they need convenient – and the key is convenient – ways to reach work, stores, restaurants, schools and places of entertainment without driving.”

Each fall, the Transportation Board conducts a series of public forums to take comment about important transportation issues. Working with the Vermont Agency of Transportation as well as the state’s 11 Regional Planning Commissions, the Board each year identifies transportation topics on which the Agency as well as the Legislature would like additional information.

This year’s report, which can be downloaded from the Board’s website at, includes chapters on various transportation topics. These topics include:

  • Transportation options that influence choices.
  • The decline of driving.
  • Vermont’s walking and biking infrastructure.
  • Public transportation, including train travel.
  • Highway safety, including people’s thoughts about legalizing marijuana and driving.

The Board’s forums were conducted according to Title 19V.S.A. § 5(d)(8), which charges the Transportation Board to work together with the Agency of Transportation to hold public hearings “for the purpose of obtaining public comment on the development of state transportation policy, the mission of the Agency, and state transportation planning, capital programming and program implementation.”

Source: Vermont Transportation Board. 1.28.16