Driving and Transit in America: Misinformation from Down Under

I nearly fell off my bicycle when I read that driving had declined 43% in the United States and transit use had increased 65%. Australia’s The Fifth Estate attributes these figures to Professor Peter Newman of Sydney’s Curtin University at an event at the Hassell architectural and urban planning firm offices in Sydney. In speaking about a declining driving trend in Australia,The Fifth Estate reports Professor Newman as saying that:

"… new research from the United States shows this is not a localised trend – car use in the US has plunged 43 percent and there has been a 65 percent leap in public transport use."

As anyone remotely familiar with US transport trends knows, the statement is erroneous. The driving claim is more than 20 times (2,000%) the reality, while transit has seen no ridership increase remotely approaching 65% since World War II, when gasoline (petrol) and tires were rationed.

Professor Newman is one of the world’s leading advocates of compact city policies (urban consolidation or smart growth policies), and was co-author of Cities and Automobile Dependence(with Professor Jeffrey R. Kenworthy). This 1990 volume broke new ground in reporting international transport data (one can take issue with commentary in the book, but the data is solid as have been subsequent revisions under Professor Kenworthy’s leadership). Professor Newman has also served as Sustainability Commissioner for the state of New South Wales (Sydney is the capital) and serves on the federal government’s Infrastructure Advisory Council.

In view of Professor Newman’s prominence, Australian colleagues asked me for clarification on the matter. I contacted Tina Perinotti, author of the story (by whom I had been interviewed while on a national speaking tour of Australia in 2006). She indicated concern said she would investigate it and make any necessary correction. The last I heard, she had been referred to a Brookings Institution publication. I responded that nothing would be found at Brookings to support the absurd notion that driving is down 43% and transit is up 65% (since we all rely on the same authoritative data sources). Approaching one month after publication (July 24), the error has neither been retracted nor clarified.

The actual data shows the following:

More at… http://www.newgeography.com/content/001694-driving-and-transit-america-myths-down-under (including source citations)


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