Modifying the rebound: It depends! Explaining mobility behaviour on the basis of the German socio-economic panel

We address the empirical question to which extent higher fuel efficiency of cars affects additional travel and how this behavioural aspect is modified by additional variables. The data set used to estimate a theoretical model of the rebound effect covers two panel waves, 1998 and 2003, taken from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). To take full advantage of the information in the data available, and to avoid problems due to possible selection effects, we estimated an unbalanced two-wave random effects panel model. Our results suggest that in line with the rebound hypothesis, there is a negative effect of car efficiency on the kilometers driven. That is, the lower the fuel consumption, the larger the driven distance. However, contrasting recent empirical literature about the rebound effect in the transportation sector, this seems to be true only for cars with a consumption of more than roughly eight liters per hundred kilometers. In addition, we find a positive diesel effect, which implies that owning a diesel engined car, has a positive effect on the driven distance. Both effects can be interpreted as support for the rebound hypothesis, although not in a simple linear way. Moreover, it can be shown that some “soft” variables such as certain attitudes towards the environment tend to amplify this non-linear rebound effect. Our results support the general direction of the rebound effect on households travel activities. But because of the remaining political relevance of the rebound effect, they also highlight the importance of accounting for additional behavioural variables which tend to influence individual mobility behaviour. Hence, the classical interpretation of the rebound as a linear effect of advances in fuel economy on individual travel has to be questioned.
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