How High do Gas Prices Have to Go?

The other day I was driving past a gas station and I saw someone filling up their Humvee. Given the most recent runup in gas prices, I couldn’t help but shake my head and chuckle. I have to admit that, while I don’t enjoy paying more for gas than I used to, I still get a sort of sick pleasure out of price hikes whenever I see someone filling the tank on their monstrous gas hog. Anyway, all of this got me to wondering…

How high will gas prices have to go before people start making real, meaningful changes in their behavior? What would it take for you to go out and buy a more fuel efficient car? Perhaps a (gasp!) hybrid? Or maybe even a plug-in hybrid? To move closer to work? Or maybe to carpool, take public transportation, or start riding your bike? How high would prices have to go before you’d cancel your next big driving vacation? While we may have already reached that point for some, I’m sure that it’s still quite a way off for others.

From my own perspective, I would love to live closer to work. And not just for the cost savings. In fact, cost savings would run a distant second to having an extra hour per day with my family. But, given the size of my family, we’re priced out of an appropriate house closer in. So I just live with my roundtrip commute of ~25 miles/day knowing that it’s much, much worse for an awful lot of other people. Public transportation around here is horrible, and I’d hardly get to see my kids if I used it. Thus, taking the bus is really not an option that I’m willing to consider. Biking is out, too. When the roads that I have to traverse on the way to work are combined with the mentality of driver’s around here, biking to work would be a suicide mission. While carpooling might work, my schedule (and that of my co-workers) is pretty varied, so it’s hard to set something up. Not impossible, but hard.

Anyway, from a financial perspective, it’s really not that bad. I use about a gallon of gas per day getting to and from work (it’s a pretty even mix of city/highway miles), so the most recent runup costs us a few hundred bucks per year (including our other miscellaneous driving). So what would it take for me to make a big change? I’m not exactly sure. I guess I’d probably grumble and complain up to about five bucks per gallon, and then I’d start seriously re-considering my options. And that’s really what’s at the root of the problem… Gas prices could double and we’d all complain, but an awful lot of people wouldn’t change a thing. They (we?) would simply pay the price and keep on using just as much gas as before. This is a big part of why, even if we see localized dips, gas prices won’t be getting any cheaper over the long term.

7 Responses to “How High do Gas Prices Have to Go?”

  1. Anonymous

    I think gas prices would have to go up a LOT more before it really changes how most people get around. Americans love their cars (and the associated freedom of having one) and (I think) will give up a lot of other things before they cut back on gas.

    FYI — I get the same pleasure you do when I see a Hummer in to get gas. Those things must take as much as semis!!

  2. Anonymous

    I am moving farther away from work in about a month (assuming the inspection on the house goes through), so I will have less commuting options then than I do now. I occasionally ride my bike to work, I walked once (it took 90 minutes each direction), and now and again take a bus (that doesn’t have conveniant times, really…)

    But, those options will not really be there in the near future. I will live too far to ride my bike most days (and wouldn’t during 8 months anyway – it is Maine after all…) and there is no public transportation to the middle of nowhere I’d be living. I will carpool w/my girlfriend most days, probably, but she is giving up a 10 minute walking commute.

    Gas would have to be pretty high for us to give up driving, since we’d rather have a place to live and can’t afford anything in town.

  3. Anonymous

    What would it take? It took me money, convenience and time…in that order.

    Money – To have an affordable house, I live 45 miles from work. By using public transportation I’m saving almost $200/month in gas.

    Convenience – Since I don’t drive every day I can catch an extra 45 minutes of sleep, read email on my laptop, write a blog entry, read a book or any number of things other than be stuck behind the wheel.

    Time – My commute is actually shorter now that I can use the carpool lane, plus I’m on a fixed schedule with public transportation. Sorry boss, but I have to leave to catch my ride…no staying late for me. 🙂 Of course, that only means I might have to do some work from home, but I can live with that.

  4. Anonymous

    Fuel and cars are luxury items in the US. Granted, most people need a car, but a small, not-new, fuel efficient car will do for most people. However, most people buy big cars, not fuel efficient, and they don’t hold the cars for too long — thus, it becomes a luxury item.

    People decide what their luxury items will be. For some people it is cars. For me, it is houses (which are also investment properties), good food (home, not restaurant), and the ocassional electronic.

    What people don’t see is that buying some luxury items do more harm than buying some other luxury items. The cars, and their impact on the energy costs have the tendency to affect everything else in our society.

  5. Anonymous

    To buy a hybrid, hybrids would have to become a financial net-win. Which they’re presently _not_. Moving closer to work? Well, I’d really _love_ to live within walking distance of my office, but unfortunately the apartments that close cost way too much for me to afford on my current salary (it might save as much as $50/mo on gasoline, but my cost of rent would go up by something on the order of $1500/mo). And since my “next big driving trip” is to visit my family and friends for my 30th birthday…well, I suppose if gas were $100/gal and the round trip thus cost about half my monthly take-home pay, I might reconsider, but probably not even then. (It’s a trip I take relatively often…each time about 500 miles between the round trip and local driving while I’m there. Any destination further than about 200 miles away, and I fly.)

    I do use public transit when I want to go somewhere in the city during the daytime…but by the time I’m going to work, the busses are only running about every half hour in my neighborhood, and that can mean either standing a long time in the heat (and/or rain, or whatever the current weather is) or being very, very late.

    The #1 thing that would convince me to drive less would be if gas stations here charged the same prices as gas stations across the state line…that’d cut almost 60 miles per week off my driving. But politicians in my state are…well, let’s just say they’re not known for letting go of their high taxes.

  6. Anonymous

    I am in the lucky position of possibly selling my car. My gf has a car we can use that gets better mileage and then we can split all expenses. The big wake up call for me was that including gas price, I calculated my true cost of ownership for each MILE (not gallon of fuel) on my car was $1.88 per mile. My roundtrip to and from work is about 25 miles, which means it costs me about $47.00 a day to drive to work. Visit my blog for more details.

    When public transportation takes 10 minutes longer (but I can read, relax, or listen to music) and only costs $3.50 roundtrip, it makes you wonder why I don’t take public trans more. I think I may have to do that (and sell my car!)

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