CITYWIDE — Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic it might feel as though all of Los Angeles is on the roads, but a recent report from the State Board of Equalization shows that gas consumption is down, and has been for the past three years.
According to the figures for January through March of 2009, Californians used 213 million gallons less than they did in the same three-month period in 2008, a decline of 5.6 percent, despite the fact that gas prices have also been down.
Anita Gore, chief of BOE’s communication department, said it’s no surprise gas consumption has stayed down along with gas prices.
“Consumer behavior changed when the price went up. Consumers began to use less gasoline,” she said, citing fuel efficient vehicles, rapid transit and carpooling as popular alternatives. “It appears that some of these consumer behaviors have continued even with gasoline prices declining.”
In March the average price at the pump was $2.24 per gallon, a 38 percent decline from the average price in March 2008.
Gas prices have risen since March but appear to be falling again. The average price of a gallon of regular, self-serve gas fell Tuesday for the 10th consecutive day to $2.98.
These figures hardly compare to the spike in gas prices last summer. The Los Angeles area recorded a high of $4.63 per gallon of regular gas last June, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Santa Monica prices had also risen to over $4 as early as March 2008.
Although recent months have seen a decrease in gas prices to more reasonable levels, many residents have permanently traded in their four wheels for other forms of transportation.
Ridership on the Big Blue Bus is up 5.9 percent this year, which more than doubles the average increase, said Linda Gamberg, marketing and public information coordinator for Big Blue Bus.
Gamberg believes the gas price hike last summer and the recent economic climate are responsible for increased ridership.
“It has inspired people to make those lifestyle choices to save money,” she said. “Riding Blue is a good way to save green, as we like to say around here.”
Many of those who have taken to commuting via public transportation are Santa Monica students. Last year Santa Monica College partnered with Big Blue Bus to provide free bus rides for students and faculty. Gamberg said this has also been a factor in the increase in bus usage.
Two-wheeled transportation has also hit the road with vigor.
Last year, when gas prices rose to record highs, many local bike shops saw a trend toward pedal pushing instead of gas guzzling.
“For the most part, when gas prices were going up, sales were spiking,” said Kevin Cook, a manager at Performance Bicycle Shop.
Cook said that fewer pricey, high-end bikes are going out the door but sales have increased on less expensive, commuter bikers that cost about $200 to $600. These bikes, he said, seem to be most popular with locals who commute less than 10 miles to work and have traded in their cars for alternative transportation methods.
Segway sales were also boosted with the rise in gas prices last year and Jason Stemmler, instructor for Segway Los Angeles in Santa Monica, recognized it as a permanent change in behavior.
The Segway has a range of up to 24 miles on one battery charge and riders are considered pedestrians according to state law. This, Stemmler said, makes them ideal for replacing short car rides.
“Of our customers who buy machines, a lot of them use them to commute to work or make the short distance trips where they would otherwise be in a car,” he said.
Santa Monicans who still use their four-wheeled vehicles say they are also trying to find ways to be more economical when it comes to spending money on gas.
“I’m always cautious, one has to be,” said Claire Stone as she pumped $3.26 regular gas into her car at a gas station at the intersection of Lincoln and Santa Monica boulevards. Stone said she only fills her gas tank when she needs it, which is typically no more than two times a month.
Others have developed new strategies for conserving those precious gallons.
“Whatever we have to do in one area, we try to get it done. We try not to go back and forth,” said Kimberly McKinney, who commutes frequently to Santa Monica from her home in Mar Vista to drop her son off at the Boys & Girls Club.
But some say that it’s hard to save money on gas by using more fuel efficient vehicles when those vehicles are more expensive.
“I can’t afford a car payment right now,” said Geoff Kaiser, of Santa Monica, who drove into the gas station in a truck.