Hitchhiking Lives On — at Least for Cargo

Okay, so hitch-hiking has plainly faded away -- at least for human beings. But what about for cargo? German trucking companies are facing a big problem, according to ScienceDaily: "Around 20 percent of trucks on German roads are traveling empty, at a huge cost to the transportation companies concerned."

The Answer to Yesterday's Freakonomics Contest: Where Have All the Hitchhikers Gone?

The contest question was pretty simple:

I was in California the other day and saw someone doing something that I haven’t seen done in a good while. I used to do it myself quite a bit, when I was in college, largely out of necessity. What was it?

The Travel Time Budget

Is our need to travel innate? Last time, I wrote about the intriguing theory of the universal Travel Time Budget (TTB), which states that humans have a built-in travel clock. Perhaps a product of some primeval need to balance exploration and conquest with hanging around the cave and vegging, the universal TTB is said to drive us all to spend about 1.1 hours per day on the go, regardless of nationality, culture, economic system, or era.

Do Mysterious Forces Dictate Our Travel Patterns?

Sure, studying transportation is important if you need to find the best route to the hardware store. But you might be surprised to know that transportation study might have other uses, like enlightening you about the most profound philosophical mysteries of the universe. For example, transportation might just tell us some surprising things about the degree to which we truly have free will.

What's Putting the Brakes on the Growth of Driving?

One iron law governed 20th century transportation: driving always increases. But surprisingly, the 2000s appeared to see a halt to that trend. A few theories.

What's the Driving Force Behind Less Driving?

Last time, I showed you evidence (courtesy of Robert Puentes and Adie Tomer of the Brookings Institution and Adam Millard-Ball and Lee Schipper of Stanford University) that driving per person seems to have peaked in the 2000s and now may even be dropping. This bucks every travel trend we've seen since Henry Ford got to work. What might be slowing down the acceleration in driving?

Peak Travel?

Call me a skeptic about the "peak oil" story. Human ingenuity has always found ways to produce more of, find substitutes for, or discover ways to do without a scarce resource when price signals tell us to. But if peak oil is true, doesn't one good peak deserve another? Why not meet peak oil head on with its dreaded natural enemy: peak travel?

Is Getting There Half the Fun?

A teleportation machine might be essential if you want to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the dilithium mining colony on Betazak Nine or conclude a trade agreement for Romulan ale. But back here on earth, do we really need or desire teleporters for our considerably more mundane existences? If we could get places instantaneously, and rid ourselves of travel entirely, would we?

Do We Travel to Get There or Get There to Travel?

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in transportation to demonstrate that you go someplace because you want to get there. But it definitely helps to have a Ph.D. if you want to demonstrate that you get someplace because you want to go. This far less intuitive hypothesis has been explored by Patricia L. Mokhtarian of the University of California at Davis, one of my favorite transportation thinkers, and her collaborators.

Should We Hope Congestion Gets Worse?

One of the less cheery parts of studying transportation is that the activity you have devoted your life to is widely considered an unmitigated downer. Even aside from the external environmental costs each trip places on society, travel is held to be no fun for the traveler. We don't hop behind the wheel for the love of being honked at, cut off and stuck behind a creeping bus or semi; we endure travel only because we've got someplace to go. Right?