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Lower Gas Prices Affecting Travels?

AAA's weekly survey of fuel prices reports that the price of gas nationwide took one of the biggest drops ever in the past two weeks. The price fell more than 50 cents a gallon.

In the past month, AAA said, it has dropped more than 75 cents. Last week, about 20 states fell below the average of $3 a gallon.

Demand for gas remains down, but will it stay that way? In today's Post, a story by Steven Mufson looks at what may become of the movement for more efficient autos. Dropping gas prices could depress desire for fuel economy while the troubled credit market cuts off money to finance auto design changes.

Look at the oil and gas price charts on our Metro page, and you'll see what those national and world trends have meant around here.

"AAA expects gas prices will continue to decline this month, which is welcome news for motorists," Lon Anderson, AAA Mid-Atlantic's director of public and government affairs, said in a statement. "Most drivers did not expect to see gas under $3 a gallon but with each passing day, more stations are posting prices at three-dollars a gallon or less."

But what does it mean for our local travels? We're through the summer driving season and into making plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas trips.

Anderson noted that the weakening economy may temper temptations to resume old driving habits. It remains to be seen whether lower gas prices will significantly influence travel plans this year, he said.

What has the price drop done to your commuting habits? Has anyone backed away from a change to transit, biking or walking made earlier this year. Our bus and train systems face new stress. Many are going to raise fares, and some are considering service cutbacks despite increased ridership. Will they now lose that new ridership?

The transit authority posts ridership figures on its daily service log. Through Thursday, Metrorail ridership generally beat the figure for the same date the previous year. (Bus ridership can't be counted the same way.)

My prediction: People who changed their commuting habits won't switch quickly. (I guess that's why they're called habits.) Some people who were shaken out of their routines back in the spring may have found the new way to work gave some other advantage, such as a chance to read. Plus, leaving the car at home saves more than just gas. Check the commuting calculator at The CommuterPage.com.

By Robert Thomson  |  October 20, 2008; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting , Driving  
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Comments

I've already started driving more, thanks to the combination of lower gas prices, an increasing number of out-of-service Metro escalators in stations I frequent, and late evenings at work that make driving home far more convenient than waiting for Metro's sporadic post-rush hour service.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | October 20, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I had to go to New York for a funeral last week. My trip up to NY was at the end of the Columbus Day weekend. Traffic heading back into the city/suburbs from out of town was the worst I had ever seen/heard on a weekend. Jersey Turnpike jammed from 6 to 8A (but only northbound). Eastbound Hudson River Crossings had 45+ min delays, and a whopping 90 minutes from the I-80/I-95 express lanes onto the GW Bridge. Southbound NY Thruway was heavy from New Paltz to the Tappan Zee Bridge (60 miles). Some of this I saw myself, some of it I heard on 1010 WINS and WCBS 880 traffic reports.

My guess is that a lot of people had cabin fever after the summer's high gas prices and decided to get a trip in before hunkering down over the winter. A service area stop on the NJ Turnpike also offered a clue about a different travel demographic: hundreds of kids in soccer uniforms going to travel tournaments and heading back home. Most parents are willing to cut their own personal travel before cutting into their kids' activities, so that travel is likely to remain higher then other discretionary travel.

Posted by: Woodley Park | October 20, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: WP, I'll be watching for chances to advise people on their long-distance travels as the holidays approach. We just got back from our annual vacation in Bar Harbor, Maine. Been doing that the same week -- second week of October -- every year for two decades.

Paid 2.99 for gas in Maine. It seemed to get more expensive farther south, even in NJ, which is normally the cheapest on our route.

I like your thought about cabin fever. Bar Harbor, the gateway to Acadia National Park, was as crowded as I've seen it in 20 years. Many out-of-state plates visible.

Traveling to and from New England, we take the advice of so many readers: Timing is at least as important as route. Travel at off peak times on off peak days.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | October 20, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I paid $2.99 a gallon for 93 octane at the Sheetz station in Wilderness, VA (corner of VA-3 and VA-20), on Saturday night en route home from the UVA football game. The stations in Charlottesville were typically 50ยข a gallon more. Bizarre how the price can vary so much between localities in the same state.

Posted by: Rich | October 20, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why everyone doesn't just take mass transit and help us lower sea levels.

Posted by: Think Obama | October 20, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

NJ gas was $3.189 on the Turnpike, but $2.999 or less off the Turnpike (saw as low as $2.929 in Cherry Hill).

The turnpike gas stations are severely restricted by their franchise agreement from changing their prices more than once per week. I forget which day that occurs on. While that was a great thing last summer when prices were rising 10 cents a day, and the turnpike price was 35 cents less than surrounding stations, it doesn't work so nicely when their prices are forced to stay higher than off-turnpike stations. But many people will still pay the turnpike price regardless because it is too inconvenient to get off and back on (especially if you don't have E-ZPass).

What I'm saying is that gas prices on the turnpike and garden state parkway might not match reality for the rest of the state. If you do as I do, and stop for gas off the turnpike, you don't have to wait in long lines and might save a few pennies. If you take US 46 between the Turnpike and George Washington Bridge, you have several gas opps. in Palisades Park...not to mention, you'll almost definitely get onto the bridge faster then from I-95. Heading south, if you exit the turnpike at Exit 4 and go west towards Philly, there is a Lukoil station between the Turnpike and I-295. Don't bother with a U-turn, just take I-295 south to Delaware from there. Heading north, take I-295 north to Exit 36 A, stop at the Exxon just off the ramp, and hop right onto the Turnpike there. You are on a local road but there is only 1 traffic light between the Turnpike and I-295.

Posted by: Woodley Park | October 20, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse

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