Based on figures through August, per-capita gasoline consumption in British Columbia in 2005 has dropped to its lowest level since 1978, which is the earliest year for which records are available. BC’s gas consumption is on track to fall to 19.2 liters per person per week—just a hair lower than in 1990 and 1991, but a significant landmark nonetheless.
Just as important, per capita gas consumption in the province seems to have fallen by about a tenth since its recent mini-peak, in 1998. And it’s down by about a third from its all-time peak in 1980.
In contrast, Washington residents use about 60 percent more gas, person for person, than do residents of BC. Washington’s current consumption is only down 17 percent from its all-time peak, and the fall from the most recent mini-peak, when gas prices were at a low point in 1999, has only been 6 percent.
What this suggests to me is that gasoline consumption may be a bit more elastic in BC than it is in Washington. As this Slate article points out, gasoline consumption in the US is fairly inelastic: people are fairly locked into their homes, cars, and jobs, and there’s only so much driving that people can eliminate from their daily routines. Only long-term shifts in where people live and work, and what they drive, can yield substantial reductions in gas consumption—which probably means that gas prices will have to stay pretty high for a while until consumption falls appreciably.
But in BC—especially in greater Vancouver, which comprises about half the province’s population—a growing share of the residents actually do have viable alternatives to the car. Some folks who live downtown don’t need a car at all; relatively compact urban design has placed stores and services in closer proximity to many people’s homes; some people can walk or take public transport for some trips. This all adds up to greater flexibility for at least some BC residents to adapt to higher gas prices—and, as a happy coincidence, lower overall spending at the pump.