Wednesday Jolt: State Residents are Driving Less

By Afternoon Jolt August 29, 2012

Today's loser: Oil companies (at least in the Northwest). 

In a new report on gas consumption, the (Joel Connelly-approved) Sightline Institute concludes that after nearly a decade of essentially flat gas consumption, Northwest drivers are using less gasoline, a sign that people are actually driving less. Additionally, we've made modest gains in fuel efficiency.

The report comes on the heels of President Obama's announcement yesterday that the US will adopt a new mileage target of 54.5 miles per gallon for new cars and trucks---effectively doubling the fuel efficiency of the nation's new vehicles by 2025.

Some highlights from today's report:

Last year, per-capita consumption of gas in Washington State fell to its lowest level since 1965---7.3 gallons per week, slightly higher than per-capita gas consumption in Oregon.

Overall, Washington State and Oregon residents consumed about 4 percent less gas in 2011 than they did in 2002---"a modest dip, yet still a significant reversal of what, for many years, seemed like an endless  expanding appetite for motor fuel."

The main reason for the dip: People are driving less. On state-owned roads in both Washington and Oregon, annual vehicle miles driven per capita has dropped 13 percent over the last decade. This trend has played a much larger role in reduced gas consumption than improved fuel efficiency; since 2008, the fuel efficiency of the average car has remained roughly the same, largely because cars last longer and people are buying fewer new cars.

Gas prices, obviously, are a big reason for the reduction in driving: As gas prices have risen, drivers have used less fuel. But long-term gas price fluctuations could have longer-term effects, too: According to Sightline's report, "sustained price increases lead some consumers to make more fundamental, long-term changes—such as purchasing more efficient vehicles, changing jobs, or moving closer to work or shopping destinations."

Read the whole report here.
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