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Are You Cutting Gas Use? CAN You?

Crude oil is selling at over $106 a barrel this morning. Yesterday one of my students reported that gasoline has reached $4.50 a gallon in L.A.; at least one station was charging $4.75.

Paradoxically, the Times observes that people don’t seem to be cutting back on driving this time around. That writer speculates it’s because the nation is better prepared for surging gas prices, thanks to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Right. We all ran out and bought Priuses the minute the stock market crashed and we lost our jobs.

Au contraire, O Respected Journalistic Establishment… I suggest something quite different is at work: most people have already cut back driving and gasoline use as much as they can, and so there’s not much room for more savings. Most of us haven’t done it by buying new vehicles, because it’s not cost-effective to do so: add the increase in insurance premiums and registration taxes to the breathtaking cost of a car or truck, and it would take years for the junk to pay for itself in gas savings—even at five bucks a gallon.

Americans don’t change their driving habits much in response to fluctuations in gas prices— and IMHO, we don’t because we can’t. We have to get from point A to point B, and because most cities in this country have no useful public transportation, we’re forced to drive. Few of us are fond of driving, and we grow less fond as gas prices bite deeper into our wallets. The truth is, we’re already not driving any more than absolutely necessary.

Don’t know about you, but that’s certainly true in my precincts. When the economy crashed and I lost my job, one of the first things I did was to limit the number of days a week I’ll drive. And on those days, I carefully plan my route to hit the few stores I have to shop in: Costco, a grocery store, and Home Depot are on my way home from the campus, so I do all my shopping on the days when I have to teach.

In a normal semester, I teach two days a week: Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday. So the bulk of my driving is done on those two days.

I have to attend choir rehearsal Wednesday nights, but the drive to the church is short and doesn’t consume much gas. Same drive has to be made Sunday morning; my son lives just a few blocks south of the church, so I often visit him after the Sunday songfest.

In fact, I’m now beginning to think I can bicycle down to the church on Sunday mornings, if I can find a place to lock up the bike. Won’t do it at night…but there is a bike path of sorts that would make it pretty easy to get down there in the daylight. That would limit routine driving to two days a week.

And I’ve reverted to the hypermiling techniques we learned way back in 2008, which can squeeze more than 25 mpg out of my 18-mpg clunker. Today is the 13th: only seven more days until the new budget cycle starts. On its second fill-up of the month, my car still has more than half a tank of gas left. That means I’ve got a fair shot at making it all the way through to the 20th without having to refill.

It’s now costing me $100 a month to run my car. That’s as much as I can afford to budget and still have enough to eat. With twice-monthly visits to the filling station, I have to cut off the pump at $50, whether it fills the tank or not. Lately, this has meant that in fact, I’m not buying enough to fill the tank. But that was sometimes true before the current run-up in oil prices.

Driving less? No, I’m not driving less…because I’ve already cut my driving back as far as possible!

What about you? Are you driving less? If not, why not?

Image: Oil well in Lubbock, Texas. Flcelloguy. GNU Free Documentation License.

7 thoughts on “Are You Cutting Gas Use? CAN You?”

  1. I agree! Ever since the previous round of $4 gas, I’ve driven as little as possible. My problem is that I live in a rural area, 25 miles from “town” where I work, shop, and go to church. It takes 2 gallons of gas every time I make a round trip. I’ve cut back work to 4 days a week (for other reasons, but it helps with gas) and cut back to church 2X month. The little shopping I do is done when I’m already in town, or on the internet. Unless I start cutting my engine and coasting down hills, I’m not sure what else I can do. (I already drive slower, brake gently, and turn the engine off when I’m in line.)

  2. @ Holly: Here’s an interesting article Karen Datko of MSN Smart Spending sent along: This one diverges from the Times piece in claiming that gas consumption is dropping fast, just when you’d think a jump in the number of commuters returning to employment would push it up.

    It certainly is so that if you live in the country–or in a far-flung suburb–there’s not much choice other than to drive a vehicle. I guess if I lived in the beloved Yarnell, by now I’d have bought a Prius or more efficient gasoline-driven car; having to drive long distances to buy groceries would make the trade-in a lot more attractive economically. The other option is to buy on the Net and have stuff delivered, which simply shifts the cost of gasoline to the Internet retailer via UPS or the USPS, who shifts it back to you by raising shipping prices.

    Please don’t cut off your engine to coast downhill. That will cut off the power steering and brakes, too…not safe. Shift to low gear and take your foot off the gas. The drag on the engine will slow the vehicle and minimize the need for braking, and the car will consume very little gas as it rolls downhill.

  3. Here is one of the advantages of living in a densely populated country: public transport and living within walking distance of shopping places. On the other hand, you enjoy warm weather and probably can grow tomatoes in your back garden…

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