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.