Labor Day means travel for many and AAA has predicted a slight increase in the number of New Jerseyans leaving home for the holiday weekend. AAA New Jersey Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations Cathleen Lewis told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that the Garden State will see a greater increase in travel than both the national and regional averages.
Lewis said AAA expects a little more than 1 million New Jerseyans will be traveling and about 84 percent of them — a little more than 800,000 — are going to be on the roadways. She said there is also a significant increase in air travel — a little more than 3 percent. About 34 million people are traveling nationwide for the holiday, she said.
Gas prices may be helping to increase travel for New Jersey. Lewis said today the average gas price is $3.50 per gallon. Before Labor Day, the average was $3.45 per gallon. “That’s lower than last year. It’s actually lower than the last two years. So I think that people have a little bit of confidence that they knew that they wouldn’t be spending a lot of money at the gas pump for their holiday weekend, so it gave them a little bit more flexibility in where they were gonna go,” she said.
Lewis said AAA New Jersey representatives spoke to people at the beginning of the summer about their travel plans. “We did it particularly because of the post-Sandy environment. And what we found was that most of them planned to go to the Jersey Shore. If they weren’t going to the Jersey Shore this year because they weren’t sure if they would be able to get there, they were going to surrounding areas. So a lot of Delaware, New York beaches and a little bit further south, so Virginia, North Carolina. But for the most part, folks were staying around,” she said.
Air travel increased as well. “That also has to do with a lot of people spent this last year either trying to decide if they were gonna rebuild their home from Sandy or their second home and waiting for some of those processes to go through. So we’ve seen a lot of people in our offices that are coming in and saying, ‘I know what I’m gonna do. I’ve figured this out. And now I need a break. So now I’m gonna go someplace. I’m gonna go to some nice island somewhere where I don’t have to worry about it for a weekend and relax,’” Lewis said.
The real estate market can also have an effect on people’s travel plans. Lewis explained that nationwide, people are starting to have more confidence in the economy. “That has to with the housing market as well and that’s because people are starting to see that the value in their home has stabilized and hopefully risen a little bit. So they have a lot more confidence in the equity that they have. So that has helped people make those decisions and say, ‘You know what? I think I’m safe to spend that money to go on vacation and invest a little bit in finding some time to relax and rejuvenate myself,’” Lewis said.
Travel in general on the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike is down for the first six months of this year. Lewis attributes the change to a shift in the way people are commuting and using their transportation. “We saw a lot of that with the economic downturn because people don’t have to commute. So there’s not as many people on our roadways,” she said. “People are also looking for alternative ways to commute, whether they’re taking public transportation or they’re biking to work or they’re finding alternatives.” She added that an increase in toll prices on both roadways has led to a small decrease in traffic as well.
“In general I think that people are changing some of their driving habits. We always advocate that people find ways to relieve congestion. Some of that can mean taking public transportation. Some of that can mean finding alternative work schedules so that there’s not so much congestion. And I think that a lot of people are starting to embrace that,” Lewis explained.
AAA also supports getting the word out about distracted driving, particularly during a holiday weekend. “Distracted driving is obviously deadly. And at the end of the day what happens, particularly when the roads are congested and we have rain as we’re driving back, you need to put your focus on your main goal at the time, which is getting yourself safely from point A to B,” Lewis said. “So put the devices down. Give them to somebody in your car to read if you really need to. But keep them off and keep your focus on the road.”