When states across the country implemented shelter-in-place mandates to try and curb the effects of the pandemic, traffic numbers throughout the nation’s roadways plummeted–except for those of truck drivers.
Truckers, who stepped up during 2020 to deliver our essential supplies, food, and medical resources, also helped keep state transportation department revenue with their regular diesel purchases.
Still, the drop in fuel tax revenue from non-commercial drivers was expected as fewer and fewer people were taking to the roads, according to the Institute on Taxation And Economic Policy’s research director, Carl Davis.
“Especially in the spring, it’s clear that driving just cratered,” said Davis. “Folks are paying a lot less in fuel taxes.”
States typically rely heavily on gasoline tax revenue, but the revenue generated by truckers’ purchases of diesel did help lessen the blow, even while more people than ever were staying home and not filling their tanks.
Unfortunately, the loss in revenue was heavy–$16 billion estimated to have been lost for state transportation departments throughout the year of 2020, according to The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
“It’s been an incredibly hard time, these last five to six months, for state DOTs and transit agencies, because the revenue isn’t coming in the way that they had planned for it to come in at the beginning of the year,” said Jim Tymon, Executive Director of AASHTO.
Specifically, gas sales dropped to around 228.2 million gallons per day in the month April (as compared to April 2019’s 368.5 million gallons). Sales didn’t drop quite as significantly for ultra-low-sulfur diesel, which showed numbers of around 143.5 million gallons per day (as compared to April 2019’s 159.5 million gallons per day), according to data provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
EIA’s data also shows that April 2020’s gasoline sales were the lowest recorded since 1983–when the group first started collecting this kind of data.
“As we watch traffic patterns, the percentage decrease in trucks [is] significantly less than the percentage decrease in passenger vehicles over the course of COVID,” said Luke Reiner, Director of Wyoming DOT.
Indiana DOT’s spokesman said he saw this first hand, as both truck and passenger vehicle traffic numbers decreased heavily in the beginning of the pandemic, but truck traffic began to increase again much more quickly. Within 20 days, he said, truck traffic numbers had risen back to their typical level of around 27 million vehicle miles traveled daily.
Finally, truck traffic levels ended up becoming around 5% higher than normal numbers by early September 2020 in the state. This increase in Indiana’s monthly diesel revenue came out to around $1.5 million above the state’s normal revenue income.
However, while truck driver traffic has been on the incline, passenger vehicle traffic has not seen such improvement throughout Indiana. Non-commercial vehicle traffic dropped to around 55% below regular baseline levels of the average daily vehicle miles traveled per passenger vehicle, and was still down 8% from normal by September.
INDOT’s revenue for 2020 is estimated to have dropped by around 15%, according to Manning–a loss of about $145 million.
“It does seem to give some sort of indication that people are heavily reliant on trucks to move goods,” said Oregon DOT’s assistant director for revenue, finance, and compliance, Travis Brouwer. “Typically, we find that trucking activity is fairly cyclical of the economy. You would expect in a major downturn that we see today that people would be putting off major purchases. We just have not seen the economy translate into less trucking activity.”
According to Brouwer, Oregon saw driving levels that were down between 40 and 50% this year as compared to years prior. At the end of August, the state saw a 10% drop in driving levels from regular numbers, and a drop of 33% in the number of gallons of fuel sold in April 2020 as compared to previous years.
Additionally, according to Daniel Porter, ODOT’s chief economist, only 100.6 million gallons of taxable gasoline and diesel were sold throughout Oregon in April 2020, as compared to 149.8 million gallons sold in April of 2019. With Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services offices closing for a number of months during the pandemic, the organization has seen an additional further drop in overall revenue.