Daily Miles Traveled

How far are Bay Area residents driving each day?

Daily Miles Traveled

Daily miles traveled, commonly referred to as vehicle miles traveled (VMT), reflects the total and per-person number of miles traveled in personal vehicles on a typical weekday.

When drivers get behind the wheel of their cars each day, how far do they travel? This can vary quite a bit from driver to driver, of course, but monitoring the total number of miles driven and comparing that to population can give us a good idea of driving trends in the region. While driving grew rapidly in the 20th century, recent trends indicate relative stabilization in the region and across the country.

Regional Performance
Over the last decade, per-capita miles traveled decreased slightly even as the region’s population grew by a half-million people.

After a period of rapid growth in the 20th century, the number of miles logged daily by vehicles in the Bay Area has more or less plateaued in the early years of this century, a phenomenon reflected in both total number of miles driven and per-capita measures. In 2013, 166 million vehicle miles were driven daily, reaching and slightly surpassing the 2002 peak. Per-capita miles traveled have decreased slightly over this time period, despite significant population growth. Even with economic boom and bust cycles, residents have consistently driven between 22 and 25 miles per day.

At 30 miles per resident, the average daily vehicle miles traveled in the North Bay counties of Marin and Solano top the county-level tallies for the Bay Area in 2013. This figure represents a reduction for both counties from daily VMT averages that ran in the 30-plus range throughout the preceding decade. Conversely, San Francisco has by far the lowest VMT per capita of just 11 miles.

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Historical Trend for Daily Miles Traveled

National Context
The Bay Area’s per-capita VMT is in the middle of the pack nationally.

Bookended by the metro areas of New York and Philadelphia on the low end and Atlanta on the high end, the San Francisco Bay Area finds itself in the middle of the pack in terms of daily miles traveled. As of 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, the Bay has the fifth-lowest level of driving. Surprisingly, the Bay Area is virtually tied with auto-oriented Los Angeles for per-capita miles traveled.

Metro Comparison for 2013 Daily Miles Traveled


California Department of Transportation: California Public Road Data/Highway Performance Monitoring System

Federal Highway Administration: Highway Statistics Series

Table HM-71: Vehicle-Miles of Travel by Urbanized Area (2013)

California Department of Finance: Population and Housing Estimates

Form E-8 - Historical Population and Housing Estimates (2001-2010)

Form E-5 - Population and Housing Estimates (2011-2013)

U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey

Population Statistics

U.S. Census Bureau: 2010 Census Summary File 1

Group Quarters Population by Sex, Age, and Type of Group Quarters

Image: Flickr (Creative Commons license), Photographer: Chuck Coker, https://www.flickr.com/photos/caveman_92223/2879809588/in/photolist-5otM...

Methodology Notes: 

Vehicle miles traveled reflects the mileage accrued within the county and not necessarily the residents of that county; even though most trips are due to local residents, additional VMT can be accrued by through-trips. City data was thus discarded due to this limitation and the analysis only examine county and regional data, where through-trips are generally less common. The metropolitan area comparison was performed by summing all of the urbanized areas within each metropolitan area (9-nine region for the San Francisco Bay Area and the primary MSA for all others). For the metro analysis, no VMT data is available outside of other urbanized areas; it is only available for intraregional analysis purposes. VMT per capita is calculated by dividing VMT by an estimate of the traveling population. The traveling population does not include people living in institutionalized facilities, which are defined by the Census. Because institutionalized population is not estimated each year, the proportion of people living in institutionalized facilities from the 2010 Census was applied to the total population estimates for all years.