Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Are High Gas Prices Changing Behaviour?

During my morning commute I passed a gas station advertising a price of $1.30 per litre. This may not be the peak in my area, but it is quite high. You'd think that this would drive more people to take the bus or to carpool.

Looking around I saw little difference in the density of cars, vans, trucks, and SUVs clogging the roads. In a minute of scanning, I didn't see any vehicles holding more than one person. This brings up the question, are high gas prices changing the way people drive?

I hear no shortage of complaints, but my small sample indicates that people are just paying the extra money and going about their business as usual (with some extra complaining).

If gas prices continue their climb there will have to be noticeable changes in how much people drive, but for now I'm not seeing it.


  1. This year I will average spending about $125/month on gas. That's up from about $100/month last year. So while a 25% increase sounds really high, gas makes up such a small percentage of our monthly budgets that I doubt it will have any impact on our driving habits.

    At $200/month I might notice and take some action to reduce driving, and at $400/month I would definitely start biking to work.

  2. @Echo: Your analysis is consistent with my observations. It seems that I have to wait for gas to reach somewhere between $2 and $4 per litre before I can look forward to less congestion on the roads.

  3. I think by the time gas gets to $4 per litre you'll just see a lot more alternate transport things out there:
    1) Bicycles
    2) Skateboards
    3) Horse & Buggies
    4) Camels
    etc., etc., etc.,

  4. I think change will come around $2/L. That being said, we need to have a public transit system that isn't relying on petroleum products, otherwise the price of transit will rise with fuel prices. Perhaps an electric Go train?

  5. I think that exactly the creeping up of gas prices keeps the picture the same. It's like a poison we are slowly getting used to it. If gas would suddenly jump to just 2$ a liter, we might see a difference. I remember a work colleague, with his Mustang, when asked (the gas was already 1.15$/L) if it's not a gas-guzzler, said "I don't really care", just so, a few weeks later it reached 1.3$, to shout "Gas prices are DAMN RIDICULOUS". Apparently just 15c/L was the difference to make him care. In any case, I know it did change my behaviour - I use my motorcycle as often as possible as 4L/100 km translates in about 70-80$/mo in savings.

  6. Toronto's highway 404 has a special southbound lane for cars with two or more people. It's astonishing to see the number of cars crammed into the other three lanes at rush hour, while traffic in the diamond lane flows quickly and easily to say the least.

  7. I don't think there is a specific $/gallon that will get the general population to cut back.

    It really depends on your budget and (as Echo said), how much of your budget is made up of gasoline.

    I imagine a 2 car family that drives a lot is feeling the pinch with current gas prices and might be cutting back (or planning to).

    A family like mine has one car, doesn't drive a ton (15k/year) and probably won't make any changes unless gas goes much higher than it is now.