Holy calamities! Earthquakes, hurricanes ... and traffic!

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While automobile travel is expected to increase slightly, if recent declines in gasoline prices continue through Labor Day, we could see an increase in last-minute holiday weekend travel.” –Glen MacDonell, director, AAA Travel Services

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Well now! If the thoroughly unexpected 5.9 on-the-Richter-scale earthquake that hit the East Coast of the U.S. yesterday plus the impending landfall this weekend of Hurricane Irene weren’t enough, now we have predictions for a third type of calamity to make a most unwelcome strike in the none-too-distant-future: traffic congestion!

According to AAA, some 31.5 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home during the Labor Day holiday weekend (defined as Thursday, Sept. 1 to Monday, Sept. 5, just to be specific), which is down 2.4% from the 32.3 million people who traveled during the Labor Day holiday period last year

AAA, based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, said the projected decrease in expected travelers is a result of a mixed economic outlook, consumer uncertainty regarding the overall economy, and recent downturns in economic factors that affect discretionary income, which is particularly relevant to the travel and tourism industry.

Real disposable income is up just 1.3%, which is being offset by the travel price index rising 6.7% since last year, due primarily to rising transportation costs, the group said.

However, more of those folks could be hitting the roads than previously expected, AAA stressed, as car travel – due to the nice decline in fuel prices we’ve been experiencing – is going to be an increasingly cheaper way to go.

Approximately 27.3 million people (some 87% of holiday travelers) plan to take to the nation’s roadways over the Labor Day holiday weekend this year – a slight increase of 0.5% from the 27.2 million roadway travelers last year, but representing a 3% in the share of total holiday travelers from last year’s 84%.

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“A consistent story throughout the year has been the significant increase in gas prices,” noted Glen MacDonell, director of AAA Travel Services. “The current national average price for regular unleaded gasoline is approximately $3.57 per gallon, about 86 cents higher than one year ago, but down nearly 10% from their May peak,”

Yet he also stressed that gasoline prices will have less of an impact on Labor Day holiday travelers than they had on Memorial Day and Independence Day holiday travelers, during which 42% and 44%, respectively, stated gas prices would impact travel plans.

By contrast, 71% of intended Labor Day holiday travelers said gasoline prices would not impact their travel plans. For the remaining 29% who said gas prices would impact their travel plans, 20% plan to economize in other areas while the remaining 9% are divided between changing their mode of travel and taking shorter trips.

However, the important fact remains that the automobile remains the dominant mode of transport for the holiday season, according to AAA and IHS’s research. For truckers, though, it means bring plenty of patience along if you'll be hauling freight over the Labor Day weekend.

What's Trucks at Work?

Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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