Daily Miles Traveled

How far do Bay Area residents drive each day?

Daily Miles Traveled

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

How far do people travel when get behind the wheel? This varies from driver to driver, of course, but monitoring the total number of miles driven and comparing that to the Bay Area’s population gives a good sense of driving trends in the region. While vehicle miles traveled (VMT) grew rapidly over the 20th century, more recent data indicates relative stabilization both in the region and across the country.

Regional Performance
Per-capita miles traveled have remained relatively stable for the last decade, even as the region’s population grew by more than a half-million people.

Although the number of daily miles logged by vehicles in the Bay Area declined during the Great Recession, daily miles traveled has spiked since 2010. The region has surpassed previous records for this indicator with vehicle miles traveled now totaling 172 million on a typical day. On a per-capita basis, daily travel in the Bay Area has stabilized since 2005 at approximately 23 miles per person. This suggests that recent growth in total mileage is primarily driven by population growth rather than longer travel distances.

At around 30 miles per resident, the North Bay counties of Marin and Solano had the highest average daily vehicle travel of the nine Bay Area counties in 2015. For Marin County, this figure represents a reduction from a daily VMT average that ran in the 30-plus range throughout the preceding decade. Conversely, at just 10 miles, San Francisco has by far the lowest VMT per capita.

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Historical Trend for Daily Miles Traveled

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

Bookended by the metro areas of New York and Philadelphia on the low end and Atlanta and Dallas 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 2015, the latest year for which figures are available, the Bay had the fifth-lowest level of average daily driving. Surprisingly, the Bay Area is virtually tied with Los Angeles for per-capita miles traveled, belying the latter city’s auto-oriented reputation.

Metro Comparison for 2015 Daily Miles Traveled


California Department of Transportation: California Public Road Data/Highway Performance Monitoring System (2001-2015)

Federal Highway Administration: Highway Statistics Series

Table HM-71: Vehicle-Miles of Travel by Urbanized Area (2015)

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 (2011-2015)

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 examines 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-county 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.