The Housing Chronicles Blog: Rising gas prices changing American lifestyles

Friday, May 9, 2008

Rising gas prices changing American lifestyles

When gas rose past $2/gallon, it was no problem for many because, after adjusted for inflation, it was still reasonably priced. Even as it passed $3/gallon it elicited more complaints than changes in behavior, but that is all changing with $4/gallon (or more) gasoline. I think it's fair to presume that the changes we're seeing in lifestyle -- including more carpooling, rising interest in public transportation and walking/bicycling -- will also have a profound effect on where people choose to live. Hello, urban infill! From a USA Today story:

Record high gas prices are prompting Americans to drive less for the first time in nearly three decades, squeezing family budgets and causing major shifts in driving habits, federal data and a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll show.

As prices near — or in some places top — $4 a gallon, most Americans say they are cutting back on other household spending, seriously considering buying more fuel-efficient cars and consolidating their daily errands to save fuel.

Americans worry that steep gas costs are here to stay: eight in 10 say they doubt today's high prices are temporary, the poll finds. It's the first time such a large majority sees pricey gas as a long-term problem.

The $4 mark, compounded by a sagging economy, could be a tipping point that spurs people to make permanent lifestyle changes to reduce dependence on foreign oil and help the environment, says Steve Reich, a program director at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida...

The average price of a gallon of gas nationwide is $3.65 — the highest ever, adjusted for inflation. California's average: $3.90 a gallon. The federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects a $3.66 per-gallon average this summer...

February was the fourth consecutive month in which miles driven in the USA fell, an analysis of Federal Highway Administration data show. There hasn't been a similar decline since 1979, when shortages created long lines at pumps...The decline, while small, is significant because the U.S. population and number of households, drivers and vehicles grow by 1% to 2% a year...

In 2004 and 2005, about one-third of Americans said they cut spending because of rising gas prices. In the new poll, 60% say they are trimming other expenses. Half of households with incomes below $20,000 say they face severe hardships because of soaring gas prices. Three-fourths of households making $75,000 or more also are changing how they use their cars...

Most of those polled expect things to get worse: 54% say they expect gas prices to reach $6 a gallon in the next five years.

For now, they are rethinking the ways they get around, where they buy a home and what they do for fun.

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