27. Vehicle Miles Traveled Per Capita

Annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita on New Jersey road systems is a measure of whether the state’s transportation system is developing efficiently. An increase in VMTs imposes costs on the state in many ways. Traffic congestion wastes time, which is fundamentally our most important limited resource. It delays workers, consumers, and goods, decreasing our economic competitiveness. Vehicles are also a significant source of pollution. Car exhaust is a major source of air pollution including greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the impervious surface in roads, driveways, and parking lots increases storm runoff and storm surges, eroding streambanks and increasing water pollution and sedimentation.

How are we doing?

VMTs per capita have increased steadily over the past three decades, from about 5000 in 1965 to over 8000 in 2001. This is a discouraging trend, and one that shows no sign of change. Moreover, since this is a per capita figure, and the state’s population has also risen over the same time period, the actual miles driven – and pollutants emitted – have risen at a much higher rate than the per capita figures shown in this indicator.

What is behind these figures?

VMTs are calculated for personal vehicles, and do not include buses, trains, or other mass transit. As Figure 27.2 shows the use of mass transit has increased steadily over the past ten years. However, in 2001 the average New Jerseyan still only used NJ Transit for 26.4 trips per year. Road congestion might decline if far more commuters switched from cars to mass transit. Unfortunately, this is not possible at present. The sprawling land use patterns in the state mean that a majority of commuters do not have the option of using mass transit to get from their home to their workplace. Without a change in our land development patterns, VMTs will continue to increase in New Jersey, with consequent increases in energy use and degradation of the environment.

New Jersey ranks sixth in the nation in vehicle miles traveled per capita, based on nationwide data on VMTs.

Indicator Target:

Targets with which to assess state progress have not yet been established for this indicator.