Americans are making fewer summer trips by car and driving fewer miles for the first time in decades. Summer driving has dropped steadily every year, according to AAA, and the Transportation Department reported last week that in March of 2008, U.S. drivers logged 11 billion fewer miles than in March of 2007, a 4.3% decline. Not since 1979 has traffic dropped from one March to the next; not since 1942 has traffic seen such a significant decline, month-on-month. The demand for gas has also fallen, for the first time in 17 years.
As gas prices skyrocket, Americans are adjusting their commutes. From the NYT:
Hating every minute of it, Americans are slowly learning to live with high gasoline prices. For a nation accustomed to cheap fuel, big vehicles and sprawling suburbs, the adjustments are wrenching.
Cory Asmus of Temecula, Calif., just bought a $4,800 motorcycle for his 20-mile drive to work so he could cut his gas bill to $8 a week, from $110.
Florian Bialas, a retiree who lives near Chicago, sold his Pontiac Sunfire for $3,000 and plans to give up his license when it expires in September. “I can walk to most places where I need to go,” he said.
And Debbie Gloyd of Cleveland has parked her Chrysler Concorde and started taking the bus to work. “I can’t afford these gas prices,” she said. “They’re insane.”
Experts predict that cutting down on car travel is more than a temporary fix or a side effect of a fizzling economy. The changes Americans are making now will likely endure and, with luck, will reduce our overall dependence on fuel—and motivate us to find more ecological alternatives.
Lee Schipper, a visiting scholar at the transportation center of the University of California, Berkeley, called the changes in gas prices and consumer habits a “wake-up call.” He told the NYT, “We actually have a lot of choices, based on what car we drive, where we live, how much time we choose to drive, and where we choose to go. But you have built in a very strong car dependency. And when the price hits the fan, people have a hard time coping.”