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Labor Day travelers opt for trains, buses

Holiday weekend travel is expected to decline this year - while the use of trains and buses is going to soar.

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By Aaron Smith, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- More travelers will be crowding onto buses and trains for this Labor Day weekend, while car and airplane travel is expected to decline, according to a report released Friday by motorist group AAA.

The bulk of Labor Day travelers - about 28.6 million people, or 83% of the total - are still expected to drive to their destinations, AAA said. But that's a 1.1% decrease in driving from last year.

And less than 4 million people are expected to fly on the holiday weekend, down 4.5% from last year, said AAA.

Meanwhile, the use of the less popular modes of travel, mainly bus and train, is projected to soar 12.5% over the Labor Day weekend compared to last year. That's a gain of 200,000 people, adding up to 1.8 million travelers, or 5% of the total weekend travelers.

"People this holiday also seem to be traveling differently, with more travelers interested in going by train, bus and some of the traditionally lesser used transportation modes," said AAA president and CEO Robert Darbelnet.

Overall, fewer Americans will travel for the Labor Day weekend this year, said AAA. About 34.4 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles over the holiday, according to the organization. That's a decline of 320,000 travelers, or 0.9%, from last year.

There would likely be a more pronounced dip in Labor Day travel if gas prices hadn't declined recently, according to Darbelnet. The cost of filling the tank put a bigger dent in travel over the Independence Day weekend, when travel declined by 1.3%.

The nationwide average for regular unleaded was $3.692 a gallon on Aug. 22, according to AAA. That's down from the July 17 record of $4.114, but it's still up dramatically from the year-ago average of $2.780.

Economic malaise is also taking its toll on the spending power of many Americans, causing them to scale back costly holiday travel.

The economy has lost 463,000 jobs this year, pushing the unemployment rate up to 5.7% last month, a five-year high. Many American families are opting for "staycations," where they stay at home for their vacations to save on travel costs.

The Air Transport Association, the trade group for U.S.-based airlines, also projects a downturn in Labor Day air travel.

The ATA believes that 16 million passengers will fly on U.S.-based carriers during Labor Day holiday period, beginning Aug. 27 and ending Sept. 3.

That's a decline of 5.7% from the 17 million passengers who flew during Labor Day last year, the ATA said. This includes a 6.5% decline in domestic travel, and a 1% increase in international travel.

The ATA, which released its projections on Aug. 18, blamed high energy prices, rising airfares and schedule cuts among the top reasons for grounding one million people this year.

Americans have already started driving less, and not just because of holiday travel. In the most recent figures available from the Department of Transportation, the amount of driving steadily declined from November, 2007 to June, 2008. In that period, Americans drove 53.2 billion miles less than in the same period the prior year.

In June, Americans drove 12.2 billion fewer miles, or 4.7% less, compared to the same month in 2007, according to the DOT. To top of page

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