Interesting. It looks as though gasoline consumption in the Pacific Northwest has more or less plateaued since 1998, when gas prices were at an inflation-adjusted low point. Take a look, especially at the little flat part on the far right of the trend line:
Of course, this is based on partial-year data for 2005; actual consumption for the year may be a bit higher (because of a strong economy) or a bit lower (because of high prices). But even if 2005 proves to be a bit higher than 1998 in the final analysis, it’s still a surprising trend. With the exception of the oil crisis/recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s, gas consumption has grown pretty consistently since the 1950s. And per capita consumption of gas had barely budged since the early 1980s—our consumption has been tightly correlated with total population growth.
But if these numbers are right, we’re starting to see some concrete signs that high prices are begininning to bite. From 1999 through last year, average per-capita gas consumption throughout the region fell by 7 percent. That’s not a huge amount, mind you. But it’s something.
It’s too early to tell whether that trend will continue—whether we’ll continue to be able to add new residents without increasing our total consumption. I doubt it. Still, the little flat part to the right of that graph gives me some reason to be hopeful.