Travis King, 43, commutes nearly two hours a day from his home in Spotsylvania County, Va., to his health care job in Rockville, Maryland. Unable to reduce his driving, about three months ago he decided to switch to a more fuel-efficient car. The price of fuel has also threatened the income of two family businesses, which his wife operates during the week.
“We had to raise the prices of our products,” he said one morning recently, while filling up part of his tank at a Wawa station in Fredericksburg. “If I pay that amount for gasoline, I have to make up for that somewhere.”
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Whether he’s driving less or cutting costs elsewhere, King is one of millions of motorists who are adapting their lives to become more fuel efficient as fuel prices rise.
The average price of a gallon of gas Saturday was $4.84 in Virginia and $5.01 in Maryland, while the average in the Washington metro area was $5.04, or about $2 more than a year earlier, according to AAA. Regional gas prices hover about 4 cents above the national average.
California had the most expensive gas in the country, at $6.43 a gallon, while Georgia was the lowest at $4.47 a gallon, according to AAA.
“We have a perfect storm regarding gas prices and the impact on travel,” said Bill Eisele, senior research engineer at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “We have this pervasive inflation right now in all goods and services – housing is up, groceries are up, and now gas is up.”
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Christopher Knittel, a professor of applied economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management, cited two main economic and geopolitical factors that contributed to the rise of the pump.
“The war in Ukraine injected a lot of uncertainty into the oil markets and led to less Russian oil coming onto the world market, which put upward pressure on oil prices,” he said. declared.
Global oil demand is also rising more than two years into the pandemic, Knittel said, a period that also coincides with a surge in travel demand. Production slowed at the start of the pandemic as drive levels fell, but now supply is struggling to keep up.
AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Ali said demand for gasoline continues to grow as drivers fill up for summer trips.
“Despite record high gasoline prices, we’re not seeing a reduction in gas mileage,” she said on Friday. “We have seen, if anything, an increase in the last week.”
Rising gas and energy prices last month contributed to a jump in inflation, which hit 8.6% from a year earlier – the fastest pace in 40 years, according to the Federal data released Friday. Airline tickets, used cars and new vehicles were among the other main contributors to the rise.
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There is probably little relief in sight for motorists. Eisele said gasoline prices also tend to rise in the summer due to the switch to summer-grade gasoline — a cleaner, reformulated blend offered by stations during the warmer months that is more expensive to produce.
“It’s another unfortunate layer of this drama unfolding,” he said.
Rising gas prices have led to changes in the way people travel.
A national Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted between April 21 and May 12 — when gas prices in the Washington area were about 57 cents lower — showed that more than 6 in 10 drivers decide driving less, while more than 3 in 10 said they are. drive more slowly, which can improve fuel efficiency. About 2 in 10 drivers carpooled due to rising gas prices.
Khalil Thompson, a consultant who lives in DC, said he avoids filling up his tank completely and tries to stretch $20 worth of gas to last a week – often limiting driving to dropping his daughter off at school. He said he started walking, rather than driving, to the grocery store.
“I don’t go out as much anymore,” Thompson said. “I minimize my driving to the essentials.”
Some commuters who rely on their car for work have reduced their other costs in response to rising prices.
David Chase drove about 100 miles round trip every weekend from his home in Gaithersburg to see his family on the east coast. With rising gas prices, his family downsized the tradition.
Her three housemates have also started to bundle their car trips together to save money. Instead of grocery shopping individually, he said, they will ask each other to pick up items if anyone plans to shop.
“I don’t go out as much to buy groceries or run errands,” Chase said. “As much as we can, [we] compact the trip to a single visit.”
Experts also said they expected continued flexibility with remote working, an option made more accessible by the pandemic.
With an 80-mile daily commute to DC, Monica Stearns, a university administrator from Winchester, works from home when she can. To mitigate the effects of higher transport costs, she said she was considering how to provide more flexibility to her staff.
“We use telecommuting when we can, remote work and we are flexible in terms of arrival times so that they can take advantage of off-peak hours,” she said.
Rising prices have led some motorists to take another look at alternatives such as Metro and Capital Bikeshare. While it’s unclear to what extent gas prices are contributing to increased ridership, leaders from both organizations say high fuel costs are making public transportation more attractive.
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Capital Bikeshare recorded its highest pandemic-era ridership in May, as did San Francisco-area Bay Wheels. New York’s Citi Bike neared its all-time one-day record last weekend.
“Bikeshare has always been one of the more affordable options for getting a few miles in the area — and today’s gas prices make it even more appealing,” said Dominick Tribone, managing director of Lyft for Capital Bikeshare, in a statement.
Despite multiple safety and service issues, Metro also saw an increase in average ridership over the spring. Average weekday train ridership increased by 85% from January to May, while average weekday bus ridership more than doubled over the same period. The timing also coincides with an increase in office work, as restrictions eased more than two years into the pandemic. Metrorail passenger numbers are still around 40% of pre-pandemic levels.
Greg Gant, an engineer and YMCA instructor who lives on Capitol Hill, said he switched to public transportation this month to get to work after gas prices got too high. He tracks his gas expenses using an app — paying well over $5 a gallon to fill his tank with premium gas.
He said he hoped to return to driving, but right now the price of gas is “just too high”.
Experts said high gasoline prices could prompt people to seek more environmentally friendly alternatives to their energy-guzzling commutes. Knittel said more people in urban areas are likely to seek public transit options.
“There’s quite a bit of capital cost to learn the system and organize rides,” he said. “I would expect a good number of commuters to start investing time and effort in learning what their best transit options are available to them and then the next response to that is to lobby or certainly to lobby decision makers to improve audiences. public transport systems.
Thompson said he plans to continue to limit his driving in hopes that fuel demand will decline in the coming months and lower prices will follow.
“I’m just trying to get through the summer,” he said. “Hopefully something will change by then.”