Study Shows That High Gas Prices Do Reduce Driving, Encourage Use of Alternatives


Written by Lloyd Alter

There is some discussion where I live about whether the amount people drive is “elastic”- whether people drive less and look for alternatives if the prices of fuel go up. In the last Provincial election where I live, the leader of the party I support ran on a platform I couldn’t support, calling for the removal of a tax on gasoline and heating, suggesting that people had no choice, that demand was inelastic.

Your electricity. Your home heating. Gas for your car. You can cut a lot from your household budget, but everyone needs to heat their home, keep the lights on and commute to work.

But a new American study by Bradley Lane of the University of Texas at El Paso contradicts this, even in cities and towns with lousy transit. According to Eric Jaffe in the Atlantic,

All told, Lane found a pretty strong link between changes in gas prices and shifts in transit ridership. Every 10 percent increase in fuel costs led to an increase in bus ridership of up to 4 percent, and a spike in rail travel of up to 8 percent. These results suggest a “significant untapped potential” for transit ridership, Lane reports in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Transport Geography. In other words, a significant part of America’s love for the automobile may only be its desire for inexpensive transportation.

But what is most surprising is the reaction by drivers in seriously car-oriented communities, where you would think people would stay in their cars no matter what the cost because there are so few alternatives.

Most notably, he found big behavioral responses to gas prices in places like Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City, and Indianapolis cities one typically thinks of as car-centric. “What that tells me is that there is actually a greater sensitivity to fluctuation of gasoline costs in cities that tend to be more auto-dependent,” says Lane. “That to me is very interesting. People will go to transit even when there really isn’t much transit to go to.”

It is pretty straightforward: Increase gas prices and people drive less and look for alternatives. Decrease them and they drive more. What’s the green thing to do?

This post was originally published by Treehugger.


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Photo from April J. Gazmen via flickr


Tim Paich
Tim P6 years ago

Join my group called "Reshaping The World". It's not just taking a stand against greed but also for the economy. I'll still date a girl not driving and not even having a car as long as I have friends to give us rides. That's kind of silly not too. This no car no date thing has gotten worse when high gas prices make us not want to drive. There are more losers on free dating services than pay sites. I dumped Plenty of Fish because of too many losers on there. Also high gas prices upsets the economy.

Arild Warud

Your car saves most energy when it's parked in your garage.

john hall
john hall6 years ago

Dave C. just because you drive a electric car or a hybrid you still use crude oil and fossil fuels in your daily life so your just a bad as a polluter as anyone else .

john hall
john hall6 years ago

William F. you might as well tax yourself and everyone in this country because we all pollute in one way or another.

john hall
john hall6 years ago

Brian F. do you own a electric bike and if you dont why not .

Brian F.
Brian F6 years ago

In China, electric bicycles are used often, because they are cheaper than cars. Electric bicycles, are not terribly expensive, you can buy one on the internet, and can go up to 20 mph, which is not terribly fast, but fast enough for short commutes. Electric bicycles require no insurance, registration or a license, and no gas which is good for the enviroment and saves people money. For people who live within 10 miles from work, electric bicycles could be a gas free option to save money, and commute to work.

John Mansky
John Mansky6 years ago

Unrelated issue. Experienced Motorcyclist's require no headgear but an experienced Bicyclist does. Thanks for the article...

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Kathie Zirngibl
Kathie Zirngibl6 years ago

While I am in complete agreement that we should use less gas, I'm against the high cost of gas. Some folks just don't have the option of using public transportation. I live three miles outside a small town where there aren't very many jobs. As a result, I have to commute 30 miles each way to get to work. There are no commuter busses running between towns, so I have no choice but to drive. I'd love to be able to take a bus to work so I could do some reading on the commute. When I lived in Milwaukee in the 70's, I didn't even own a car because bussing it was actually easier than finding parking. My husband had a car for when we needed to go shopping or out of town. Gas was cheap then, but I preferred the bus to driving in all that traffic. I've thought of relocating to the city where I work, but we rent from friends and get as good deal. To have there what we have here, we would have to pay about three times the rent. To pare down would mean giving up our small herd of dairy goats and live in a trailer court or tiny apartment. And no, I don't live a fancy suburban lifestyle. I live in a small two bedroom mobile home on 6 acres.
What I see as the biggest waste of gas, at least where I live is the people who choose to use big pickups as the family car. I understand some folks need trucks for business purposes, but no one needs a quad cab Ford 250 that gets 10 mpg for driving to an office job or taking the family to school or church. I also notice these same people driving and ac

Dave C.
David C6 years ago

whats amazing is that there are people like my neighbor who still insist on driving big SUVs and driving them inefficiently.......I don't really worry about the price (we drive an electric car and a hybrid that gets good mpg), but am sickened by the ideas that these obnoxious world destroying BIG POLLUTION is making such profits, damaging the world, etc.....