Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pain at the Pump: A Thanksgiving Tall Tale?

Gas prices are nearing record highs. So people are driving less, right?
Almost six in 10 people surveyed for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association of Bethesda, Md., said they have modified their behavior since pump prices began rising. [...]

Of those who said they had changed their behavior, 90 percent said they were driving less, and 75 percent said they were better maintaining their vehicles.
There's only one problem with that ... drivers are telling pollsters a little Thanksgiving holiday fable. They're actually planning to drive more:
Some 31.2 million vacationers will travel by car, up 1.3 percent from last year, AAA said. Another 4.7 million will go by air, up 2.2 percent. The rest will take trains, buses or other modes of transportation. [...]

"This is the first time that we have seen gas prices tipping over $3.00 a gallon in November," said AAA's Darbelnet. "A year ago, prices were in the range of $2.20 a gallon, so this year travelers are really feeling the pinch."
Ah, there's another hiccup. Are drivers really "feeling the pinch"? Obviously drivers are allocating more of their budget to paying for gas. And the media certainly loves to play to populist themes to convince their audience they're clearly not highly-educated McMansion-dwelling SUV-driving elitists but rather Average Joes like them.

But if high gas prices were causing a such a painful "pinch," wouldn't people, like, y'know, drive less? Nope. Gas consumption hasn't posted year-to-year decline in more than 15 years.

Well then Americans must be demanding more fuel-efficient vehicles, right? Nope. Fuel economy hasn't increased significantly in 25 years. In fact, it's not a whole lot different than it was 57 years ago.

OK, OK, so aren't Americans demanding changes from their elected officials? Eh. The energy bill is stuck in Congress and tighter fuel economy standards face an uncertain future.

And as Marc Fisher points out in his "Pretend Primary" series, politicians don't have much incentive to show leadership on problems like sprawl and long drives on the national level:

In Iowa and New Hampshire, there's not much reason for presidential candidates to talk about any of this: In those relatively thinly populated states, people think a 20-minute back-up on the Interstate is bad traffic.
There are plenty of ways we could reduce our national gas bill -- more carpooling and public transportation, higher fuel economy standards, plug-in hybrids, biofuels -- but it seems like both the majority of Americans and the majority of elected officials would rather rail against those dastardly oil barons than embrace real solutions. And as Stuart Smalley once said ... every time you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

Post a Comment