On the very next post after Eric gives you the good news on transit ridership holding steady, I have the bad fortune of bringing you the disappointing news. Via The New York Times, MasterCard tells us that US gas consumption went up last week, apparently the first weekly increase in the last 8 months. Despite an increasingly rocky economy, falling gas prices are making it a bit easier to fill up the tank. And though I have no direct evidence of this, I imagine that some folks are filling up quick, before prices spike again. (That’s what I did.)
Still, the annual trends are clear: because of high gas prices and a souring economy, analysts are projecting that US gas consumption will have fallen by about 6 percent in 2008. Whoopee, I guess.
Of course, none of this contradicts Eric’s point. Contrary to popular opinion from about 1985 to 2005, gas consumption isn’t an imperturbable, universal constant. Rather, fuel consumption is a function of gas prices and income trends, as well as the longer-term choices we make when we buy cars or design our cities. Some of these forces take effect quickly; some act more slowly and more profoundly. But they all lead to the same conclusion: there many levers, both in our daily lives and in public policy, that affect how much fuel we consume.
So when it comes to gasoline, almost nothing is inevitable—except that, sooner or later, we’ll have no choice but to wean ourselves from it.
I’m driving the Subaru more often and saving the Prius for the higher gas prices I expect in the future. I suspect others may doing the same thing. The real question is what kind of car people buy for the long term when their current gas guzzler is ready to die. Will low gas prices entice people to buy guzzlers again? Not me…
Clark, I don’t think this signals a reversing trend. I guess it depends on what they mean by “gas went up last week.” Went up from where? If they mean from the previous week, my guess is it’s a very temporary (read:seasonal) spike related to holiday shopping.If they mean in comparison to the first week of December 2007, then dagnabbit in deed! Either way, the increase will be very short-lived. Come January, the wave of closures in the retail sector will send those numbers plunging faster than the mercury. Maybe it’s time to bring back the one-horse open sleigh.