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Friday, May 30, 2008

It’s Gotta Get to $5

posted by on May 30 at 16:02 PM

According to a new survey by IBM, only 25 percent of drivers nationwide would seriously consider commuting options besides driving alone if gas got above $4.00 a gallon. (Currently, the nationwide average is $3.96 a gallon; at the time of the study, it was $3.67). Another 46 percent said they’d start looking for alternatives at $4.50 a gallon. It wasn’t until hypothetical gas prices topped out at $5.00 a gallon that a majority of drivers said they’d consider changing their habits—at that level, 66 percent said they’d start looking for alternatives.

Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds said traffic had gotten worse in the last three years, 45 percent said their own commutes had caused them stress, and 28 percent reported “increased anger” because of traffic congestion.

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I wonder if the increase in angry drivers during rush hour is because they are burning up their gas. I used to drive to and from Everett every day because the bus would take almost 2 hours and require almost a mile long walk (in lake stevens). I'm guessing that as it get's closer to 4.50 people will start changing their tunes or buy more fuel efficient cars.

Posted by Little Red Ryan Hood | May 30, 2008 4:09 PM

Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds said traffic had gotten worse in the last three years, 45 percent said their own commutes had caused them stress, and 28 percent reported “increased anger” because of traffic congestion.

And 100 percent of people that switch from driving to transit because of high gas prices will have a worse commute and lower quality of life, because if transit was so great they'd be doing it already. Cheerleading for people's lives to get worse never ceases to amaze me.

Posted by jmr | May 30, 2008 4:16 PM

Inelastic goods
Price has little influence
Fill it till it hurts

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 30, 2008 4:17 PM

What really pisses me off is that some countries (e.g. the UK) are saying that the environmental fuel surcharges need to be eased now that gas is getting so expensive. That really misses the point.

Posted by Gabriel | May 30, 2008 4:17 PM

I think that commercial trucks, like the ones that deliver our food and such, Emergency vehicles (ambulances,fire engines, etc.)and transit (buses, trains) should pay about $2 a gallon and regular cars, trucks, and boats that just carry people should pay around $6 a gallon.

Posted by elswinger | May 30, 2008 4:18 PM

Where are you getting this 66% number?

25% and "another" 46% is 71%.

Posted by w7ngman | May 30, 2008 4:19 PM

The original press release ( doesn't say "another". It still doesn't mention $5 or 66%, though.

If the increase is linear, which it would appear to be if your $5/66% number is correct, the number is more like $4.60

Posted by w7ngman | May 30, 2008 4:24 PM

It would hit $5 a lot sooner if all you hippies would stop biking and riding the bus and start buying some gas. You're just enabling the destruction of our environment by not doing your part to deplete our limited resources.

Anyway, these survey answers are clearly off. The little bump in gas prices this year has filled transit systems, collapsed the prices of SUVs and caused millions to cut back on unnecessary trips. Every penny it rises does some good.

The key is going to be having an alternative for them to switch to when they are ready to switch. Which is why we need a fatty transit package on the ballot this November.

Posted by elenchos | May 30, 2008 4:25 PM

Here are the correct numbers.

$3.50 9% (9% cumulative)
$4.00 22% (31% cumulative)
$4.50 15% (46% cumulative)
$5.00 20% (66% cumulative)

So no, it's not linear, but the number is still closer to $4.50 than it is $5.

Posted by w7ngman | May 30, 2008 4:32 PM

elswinger, define commercial vehicle that isn't as vague. do regular cars that are solely conducted for the transportation of goods qualify for this? minivans?

what if this just encourages people to buy commercial sized vehicles for personal use? how much does it cost to close this loophole.

so on and so forth. overall, i'd say while your heart is in the right place, the ability to enforce mandatory price discrimination would require a lot of resources for an undetermined goal.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 30, 2008 4:36 PM

WHEN it hits $4??? It's been over $4 for about two weeks here in Michigan. It's about $4.15 today. And the economy already sucks here. And there is next to no public transportation. And half the state is suburbia. It's spread out. So getting places sucks... ... ...

Posted by MR. Language Person | May 30, 2008 4:40 PM

When gas jumped over $4 here in LA, I saw a quick increase in the number of people on the subway. (Though I wonder how many of those people will stay on the subway after another month or so.) I know even more people who have elected to carpool/telecommute etc.

I actually think pushing once a week telecommuting would be huge ... better than trying to push public transit in most cities. Because frankly, public transit is a pain in the ass. I know because I ride it. :)

Posted by arduous | May 30, 2008 4:48 PM

Bellevue Ave, what I mean by commercial vehicles are the semis that bring us our food cross country, or trucks that bring grocery stores our baked goods. I am up for discussion of classifying other vehicles as "commercial", though I am not sure about taxis

Posted by elswinger | May 30, 2008 4:58 PM

elswinger, what if i buy a semi truck for personal use?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 30, 2008 4:59 PM

to be fair there is a clear barrier to entry to driving a semi truck but there are several diesel powered delivery trucks that might fall under the definition of commercial goods transit vehicle.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 30, 2008 5:01 PM


Oh for God's sakes. For one thing, you need a special license, requiring special training and a special test, just to drive a commercial vehicle. For another, I'm sure under elenchos' suggestion truckers would have to submit some sort of business license in order to get the discounted gas.

Posted by keshmeshi | May 30, 2008 5:01 PM

think about the impact that a tax break for vehicles over a certain weight has had on the sales of hummers...

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 30, 2008 5:03 PM

keshmeshi, does each individual employee of a company have to present the business license or is there a list that each gas station has a in their computer? who updates this database? what are the legal ramifications for either buyer or seller to violating this? you don't need a special license to drive a box truck, do you?

cmon, theres a million technical reasons that setting up mandatory price discrimination for such a good is a bad, expensive, and unenactable idea.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | May 30, 2008 5:07 PM

We already give subsidized gas to farmers. They pay about a buck a gallon. It's been that way forever. It's horribly abused, but that's pork for you. Also helps a little bit to explain why so much fuel is burned without a second thought in they way we produce food.

So we could just extend that to truckers or whomever. If we wanted to bury our heads in the sand instead of getting busy and adapting.

Posted by elenchos | May 30, 2008 5:14 PM

Canada doesn't pay $5 ...

Just saying.

(source: WSJ and NYT - today's print editions)

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 30, 2008 5:28 PM

Motherfuckers better get some better early morning transit service. I've got a six AM shift in fucking Bellevue.

Posted by Gitai | May 30, 2008 5:34 PM

@20: I'm planning on driving around Canada this summer, so I've been checking prices. I'm getting an average price of about CAN 1.35 per litre, which is about CAN 5.12 per gallon, which is about USD 5.16 per gallon.

I'll also mention that I've been calling for "five dollars a gallon" for about five years now. If decreased demand drops the price lower than that, they should adjust the tax upward to make five. Now that I think about it, I'm kind of keen to see $6 gas.

Posted by Fnarf | May 30, 2008 6:05 PM

I just paid $5/gallon for some diesel yesterday. Hooray!

Posted by Mrs. Fnarf | May 30, 2008 6:20 PM

You do realize that by cheering for gas to increase in price you're also cheering for food to go up in price, right? I mean, as much as I agree that we as a society start need to re-think our energy usage and transportation planning, I'm not convinced that dancing a happy little jig about all the people who soon aren't going to be able to afford to feed themselves is such a great idea, from a PR standpoint.

Don't a lot of working-class people already see liberals as a bunch of privileged, patronizing, self-obsessed granola-eaters? People whose parents sent them to good colleges so they could become convinced they're smarter (and therefore better) than everybody else?

A little bit of sympathy for all the real problems the rapid increase in fuel costs will cause for people might be a start -- energy consumption isn't exclusively a problem of wealthy suburbanites driving their SUVs to the golf course. Our whole society from top to bottom has been built on cheap energy.

Politically speaking, "hooray for high gas prices!" is a pretty tough sell.

Posted by flamingbanjo | May 30, 2008 6:30 PM

I just paid $4.20 for regular at Barnecut's in West Seattle. But since I get 42-48 mpg, it'll last for a while. $5 gas is definitely coming.

Posted by smug | May 30, 2008 6:44 PM

Excellent point by elenchos @8:

It would hit $5 a lot sooner if all you hippies would stop biking and riding the bus and start buying some gas. You're just enabling the destruction of our environment by not doing your part to deplete our limited resources.

I just happened to have a thought run across my mind today at the gym... It's the moral responsibility of selfless people to consume less resources so that there's more resources left for selfish people to consume.

Well, I have no idea why such dysfunctional thoughts enter my mind while at the gym.

(For the grammatically correct. Should I have said fewer resources instead of less resources?)

Posted by cressona | May 30, 2008 6:51 PM

Another excellent point by elenchos @8:

The key is going to be having an alternative for them to switch to when they are ready to switch. Which is why we need a fatty transit package on the ballot this November.

Y'know, I don't see how Sound Transit doesn't go to the ballot this November. First, as Josh Feit has noted, you have the pro-Obama turnout in 2008 that you didn't have in 2007.

But more than that, I think finally public opinion in this region has turned the corner just enough on mass transit. I think finally the general populace in this region (and across the nation) has come to the realization that we're never, ever going back to the days of cheap gas. Permanent high gases prices are a bit like the hangman's noose. They have a way of focusing the mind that something like climate change cannot.

Posted by cressona | May 30, 2008 7:01 PM

Quit whining about food. We here in America enjoy the cheapest goddamn food in the history of the universe. Gas isn't that expensive, either, as a portion of our incomes.

And expensive gas is the only thing that will EVER prompt major investment in alternatives, and in conservation, and in modes of living that require less energy and less carbon. These are MASSIVELY GOOD THINGS, and will increase the quality of life for everyone.

If you want to go back to tooling around the highway in your boatlike 1972 Thunderbird, forget it. That was FAR more expensive than what we have now, or what we're going to get.

Posted by Fnarf | May 30, 2008 7:33 PM

Fnarf: It was an effort to read past the word "whining" in your post, but I did it. Here's the deal: I make much less money than you. My best guess, based on what you've said about your profession, is a lot less. Food represents a larger part of my income than it does for you. Right now I'm okay but times are getting more difficult and there are many people poorer than me. So while I appreciate and share your concern for the environmental outcomes of our current levels of consumption, let's just say the rising waters will reach my house before yours. And I am acutely aware that many of the people most adversely affected will not be the selfish over-consuming yuppies that liberals seem to be imagining when they enthuse over rising energy costs, but the working poor.

I agree that we need to invest in alternatives. I've voted for just about every mass transit initiative that's come in front of me since I moved here fifteen years ago, for all the good it's done. I just think celebrating as more people slide into poverty is in poor taste, and also serves to alienate people who are essentially on the same side of this argument.

Also, as an aside, I have never owned a 1972 Thunderbird, although I do think they're pretty cool. I'm not gonna pretend for a second that driving a Smart Car is a more satisfying experience, but then again I'm bummed I never got to see John Coltrane.

Posted by flamingbanjo | May 30, 2008 8:07 PM

Will @ 20: As a fellow ex-pat Canadian I should remind you that Canada has always had higher gas prices than in the States. Even in Alberta, Canada's version of Texas (in so many ways). But Canadian cities actually have good public transportation systems as an alternative. Seattle would be lucky to have something half as good as the Metro in Montreal or even the GO Train in Toronto. If higher gas prices are what it takes to get Seattle to actually build a halfway decent public transportation system and get people to actually use it, I won't complain.

Posted by RainMan | May 30, 2008 8:12 PM

Saying that prices need to rise high enough for people to support public transit is like saying you need to have a higher unemployment rate before people become socialists. Unfortunately, neither assumption takes into consideration the alternative: a hard shift to the right.

Posted by Trevor | May 30, 2008 8:59 PM
Posted by Just Sayin' | May 30, 2008 9:50 PM

@32 just made me a sad panda. The silver-lining on the clouds of the new energy crisis was supposed to come in the form of new ammo for self-righteous liberals denouncing SUV-owners and other lesser beings. Now trashy ho's from Alabama are jumping on board with their incendiary comments about sheiks and oil wells, and it's just making the whole gas-price-bashing scene look bad. How am I supposed to take cheap shots that boost my meager self esteem if it becomes clear that we all totally suck?

Posted by meh | May 30, 2008 11:07 PM

Higher gas prices might increase transit in other cities, but in Seattle we'll keep letting the suburbs suck us dry and stay in analysis paralysis.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 30, 2008 11:21 PM

I walk to work everyday :) But I ride dirt bikes and blast across lakes in boats at WOT so screw it. I say we start taking out the Saudi Royal Family until they give us $3/gallon gas again and let's trench the ANWR if we need to and off shore drill Florida and anywhere else we need to get cheap gas. You can't jam a fuckin caribou into your gas tank now can you? Cheap gas is worth fighting for, America was built on God, Guns and Gasoline. Let's get some pride back.

Posted by Bob | May 31, 2008 12:02 AM

Better yet Bob, lets nationalize all oil companies, and then proceed to annex all oil producing companies in a three way split between Eastasia, Oceana, Eurasia.

Posted by snarkey | May 31, 2008 7:44 AM

@36, whatever gets it back down to $3/gallon should be on the table. You can't burn reindeer in a vtec honda six, man.

Posted by Bob | May 31, 2008 11:21 AM

B.A. - I think you know what I mean by commercial vehicles. I am talking about discounted gas for the people who bring us our food. Truckers are especially hurt by the cost of gas, which is also making food more expensive for us.

If you can think of a cheaper way of transporting goods across country let me know.

Posted by elswinger | May 31, 2008 2:49 PM

@28 It's pretty obvious you don't care about poor and working folks, but do you have to be so damned smug about it?

Posted by rube | May 31, 2008 6:54 PM

el swinger; freight trains.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 2, 2008 5:03 PM

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