It’s The Commute, Stupid

You’ll have to forgive me for the rather abrupt title, which is a ripoff of a James Carville inspired slogan for the 1992 Clinton presidental campaign, but I need it to make a point.

The point being: you can blame $4 gas on your morning and evening commute.

America has been built on the notion that personal transportation would always be relatively cheap. The most obvious example of this has been manifested in the exponential growth of suburbs and exurbs during the last two decades.

As we were pushed farther away from cities and their immediate suburbs – which, coincidentally, are where a vast majority of Americans work – and climbed into our cars – in many cases, a gas guzzling sedan, truck or SUV, and almost always by ourselves – we started to put into motion the scenario that’s playing out right now.

Invariably, the more we drove, the more fuel we consumed. Because oil is a finite commodity, the more we demanded, the more we tapped into the world’s ever decreasing supply.

In order to get a better idea of how far the average American commutes to and from work, I recently added a poll to Daily Fuel Economy Tip which asked the following: “How far is your commute (round trip) to and from work?” Here’s how nearly 200 people responded:

  • 29% have a commute that is longer than 31 miles
  • 28% have a commute that is between 11 and 20 miles
  • 25% have a commute that is less than 10 miles
  • 18% have a commute that is between 21 and 30 miles

If you were to assume that the average commuter vehicle on the road gets about 21 miles per gallon – which isn’t a stretch considering all of the trucks, mini-vans and SUVs on the road – then nearly half of Americans burn more than a gallon of gas per day just to get to and from work.

While that may not sound like much, over the course of a year, that’s over 18 billion gallons of gasoline, assuming a total workforce of 150 million individuals.

Back when oil was $25 a barrel and gas was $1.25, it didn’t really matter what type of gas mileage our vehicle got or how far we drove to and from work because at the end of the day, it wasn’t going to cost much to fill up. In fact, it cost so little to fill up that even driving a gas guzzling Suburban was probably just as cheap as using public transportation, not to mention the fact that it was much more convenient.

Unfortunately, it appears that this perpetuated even more driving, which continued to push up demand on what has become an increasingly limited supply.

Don’t forget, as our demand continued to grow relatively unchecked, our friends in developing nations such as China and India began to consume more oil, thanks in large part to growing middle classes that could now afford automobiles.

So here we are now, with oil pushing $135 a barrel, a national average gas price of just under $4 a gallon and a razor thin margin between the world’s supply and demand for oil.

Happy commuting.

Comments

  1. crash course, I agree with you that telecommuting would reduce traffic, commuting costs and even (for most people) stress levels. If only more companies would get on board with telecommuting. Telecommuting is simply not an option for all office workers – yet – although that may change in the near future. I would certainly love to telecommute!

  2. I agree totaly what could be more basic than taking a survey of a persons comuting habits. The outcome could give people the option of trading living spaces etc. With grants that would renovate the properties before an exchange, That would put people to work. I am retired and a lot of the folks I know are in the same situation. But we sit in the same old house, because we don’t know any better I guess.

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