The Everett Herald is running a piece on rising gas prices and how they will affect people’s spending habits.

A recent survey done for by The Nielsen Co. found 70 percent of U.S. consumers are combining around-town driving for errands and shopping, while 39 percent said they’re just staying home more often. An estimated 65 percent of American car owners said they will “dramatically change” their driving behavior if gas hits $4 a gallon, according to a study for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association.

It does look like people who drive huge amounts will be forced to cut back as fuel prices rise. At very least, many will be forced to trade down to smaller cars. For others, though, not driving is easier, and obviously, transit plays an important role.

Jerome Don Marable of Marysville said he’s even thinking twice about riding his fuel-efficient motorcycle these days.

“I already ride transit, been doing it for close to 20 years now. So that won’t change,” he said. “I don’t drive that much to begin with, now that the kids have left the house.”

Others also said they are riding the bus or Sounder’s commuter train more these days. Community Transit’s ridership numbers show they’re not alone, said spokesman Tom Pearce.

“They’re very strong. We’re continuing to see growth,” said Pearce, adding that ridership grew 7 percent in 2007, compared to 2006. In January, ridership was up another 8 percent compared to a year ago.

Three of the transit service’s five top months in terms of all-time ridership have come since last fall. That includes last October, which saw an all-time high of 968,654 passengers riding buses.

We’ve seen similar increases on Sound Transit and King County Metro.

The article is followed by interviews with readers in Snohomish who describe how their patterns will change.

12 Replies to “Gas Prices”

  1. It’ll be interesting to see what effect gas prices have on the demand for new housing in the Redmond Ridge/Carnation/Duvall areas, all of which are poorly served by transit.

  2. Yeah all the exurbs in general might be in trouble, but I wonder this.

    If has is $2.50/gallon and people want 8mpg SUVs, what would make them less happy with 15 mpg SUVs and $4/gallon gas?

    See what I mean?

  3. I’m finding my incremental costs for driving are approaching full bus fare. Right at $3 gas my commute to my old work (when I drove it) was about $6 round trip, compared to a cash fare of $5.00 on the bus.

    But as Michael alludes to, we’re not set up in this country to weather this very easily.

  4. Well, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past thirty years, it is that the income of the average worker is not going to rise.

    My guess is that, for starters, the gas bite comes out of the rest of the economy, and you can forget about selling people new appliances because the color of the old one didn’t match their remodel.

  5. I live in Seattle and work near Southcenter, and had been driving my efficient Civic to work. We were doing the budget this month and it just made sense to start taking the bus again. Even if gas doesn’t rise any more, I’ll be saving more than $50 a month!
    I consider the fact that I can take a nap on the way to work a side benefit :)

  6. Oh, the thing to celebrate about high gas prices is that it will drive innovation. Not just in new fuel technologies and fuel efficiency which we’ve heard about, but it will drive creative trip sharing and route planning.

    I’m amazed social networking hasn’t caught up with transportation planning.

  7. Riding the bus is usually cheaper than driving. If you factor in auto maintenance, it is always cheaper.

  8. Yeah, but you can’t factor in depreciation if somebody is going to have a car regardless. I am a transit user and advocate, but I still own a car because we just don’t have the infrastructure to make transit useful always. It would take me well over an hour to get from my house to my girlfriends as apposed to a 20 minute drive. On the weekends that would be fine, but after work? I would end up getting there and turning around to get home in time for bed. I will just have to wait for light rail I guess.

    Honestly, I don’t think people are going to change their habits much. If you had asked in 1998 (when gas was around a buck) if going to $3 a gallon would have made them change their habits everyone would have said yes… but it didn’t.

  9. Zipcar solves the deprecation issue, though obviously that doens’t work for everyone either.

  10. Here is a question, do we have any empirical data that people have or have not changed their habits?

    I would say that people are making significant changes to their habits. A few years back when gas breached $2.00 a gallon, I lived in the Cincinnati Metro area SORTA/Metro (The Cincinnati area bus system on the Ohio side of the border) announced that they had had a record increase in transit ridership.

    I think habits are changing, but not in ways that we expected. I’m like Lief, I am a transit user and advocate, but I still own a car for times when it isn’t practical.

    I’ve looked at Flexcar/Zipcar and financially I can’t justify it versus owning a car. Perhaps if I was looking at purchasing a car it would be a different decision. But at the moment I’ve almost paid the thing off, its almost seven years old, (I didn’t own it for that whole period) and it still runs well. My car insurance has finally started dropping dramatically, and once I have it paid off my fixed costs will be about $600-800 per year. That gets me about 5-6 hours of ZipCar use a month, which I’m not sure I’d stay within.

    Even with gas (assuming about $50 in gas a month, remember I don’t drive much.) that brings my costs to $1200-$1400 per month. Which gets me 12-15 hours of ZipCar use a month. That might be the tipping point for me to start using ZipCar, but there just aren’t enough of them out there and available when I need them. (I’m a member although I’ve never used it, and I’ve checked at times.) The tipping point is coming, but we’re approaching a chicken and the egg scenario. People won’t start using car sharing more until there are more cars, there won’t be more cars until people start using car sharing more. At least that is where I am at, at the moment.

    I know depreciation is a real cost, but most Americans are on a cash based accounting system, not an accrual accounting system, so that doesn’t quite figure in.

    Habits will change, and have changed, but the numbers don’t always make sense.

  11. I have been noticing more riders on the lesser-used portion of the 39 lately, that is East of the VA Medical Center to Seward Park and Ranier Beach. Usually in the mid-afternoon, the Westbound 39 has few or no riders until it gets to the VA Medical Center, and then it fills up to Standing Room Only.

    Also, I notice more people every day walking to the SOUNDER platform at King Street Station, probably more ridership. Problem is, not enough parking at most SOUNDER Stations.

    Makes one wonder what ridership LINK will be getting next year.

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