Coming off a year that saw record-breaking gasoline prices (during which the average U.S. household spent $4,155, or 8.4 percent of median family income, at the pump), market analysts are predicting that some regional gas prices may flirt with the $4 or $5 mark as early as this summer (says CNN Money in “Gas prices may get close to $5 is some spots“).
Wait a minute. Four or five dollars a gallon? How could prices rise that high between now and summer?
Americans are, of course, accustomed to paying a little bit more for gas in the summer. Long days, summer vacations, and the urban heat island all inspire road trips to parks and beaches, creating conditions of peak demand. But in recent years, that summer peak has grown both steeper and higher due to the rapid car-ification of China and other big developing nations, most of which are in the Northern Hemisphere and share our summer.
- As a baby boomer, would you hold off on buying that long-dreamed-of RV and move to a walkable community that allows for car-free shopping and socializing instead? Or would you even hold off on retirement?
- As a member of Generation Y, would you upgrade to a more fuel-efficient vehicle? Or maybe ditch your household’s second car altogether, and experience benefits similar to winning America’s Funniest Home Videos (minus the pain)?
- As a Millennial, would you delay getting a driver’s license or car and rely instead on the virtual mobility provided by social media and smart phones?
Of course, it would be overly simplistic to suggest that gasoline prices are the only factor driving these kinds of trends. Demographics, technology, urbanization, and environmental awareness all play a role too. Still, record pump prices help put the matter in stark relief. And not just for individuals and families. There are big question at the policy level too. How will regional planners and infrastructure providers respond to these changes in the market? Will they continue to project continuous growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), or will they incorporate recent nationwide reductions in VMT into their plans and focus on responding to the increasing demand for convenient, high-quality transit?
I guess we’ll find out this summer.
Photo: Daniel Christensen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons