Do gas prices affect behavior or not?
Despite record-setting gas prices, U.S. drivers haven’t changed their gas-guzzling habits, says AP. Not only are we consuming as much as we always have, new vehicle sales seem to be tilting even more in favor of trucks than cars.
But wait, USA Today disagrees. They say that drivers are, in fact, starting to cut back on how much they drive — a clear sign that higher gas prices are starting to bite.
Who’s right? Who cares! Either way, the consumer response to massive increases in gas prices over the last five years has been teensy-tiny.
New studies are suggesting, in fact, that gas prices are even feebler in motivating changes in driving behavior than they used to be. It’s not hard to guess at some reasons why. Gas is still incredibly cheap compared with our incomes (even 18 cents a mile is a bargain!). And more importantly, we’ve designed our cities and our lives so that many of us have no choice but to drive.
Which brings me to the last bit of news, this time from north of the border. Apparently, Vancouver, BC, has had a huge surge in transit ridership as gas prices have gone up. Vancouver is already the Northwest’s transit leader, and the latest surge is likely to put them even further ahead.
Which suggests, perhaps, that the key to helping people cope with rising gas prices is to foster compact neighborhoods where cost-effective transit is an option. In Vancouver, many people have a choice if they don’t want to pay for gas — they can take a bus or a train. Unfortunately, not all of us are so lucky.