In 1999 you could buy a gallon of gas in Washington state for less than a buck. As recently as 3 years ago, gas prices averaged about $1.20 a gallon. Right now, though, expect to shell out about $2.85.
So what has a 136% price hike done to gasoline consumption? As it turns out, not a lot. In 2002, the average Washington resident went through about 8.4 gallons of gas per week. Based on data through July 2005, that’s now down to about 8.1 gallons per week—a 4 percent reduction.
Elastic? Not so much.
Of course, the trends are a bit confusing. The state economy was in the doldrums in 2002, but has picked up a bit of steam since; if economic conditions had remained constant, the decline in gas consumption might have been a little steeper.
Over the longer term, the trends are a little more promising. Person for person, gas consumption peaked in 1978, at 9.7 gallons per person per week. We’re down 17% from then. (Which convinces me that federal CAFE standards—while far from perfect—really did accomplish something useful.)
Remember, though, these are per capita trends. Population growth has worked at cross purposes to improved fuel efficiency: all told, Washington state is on track to use the same total amount of gasoline this year as it did in 2002, and possibly a bit more.