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The Monday Rant: A Fool for Fuel

John Deiner

Yes, it's easy to complain about gas prices. So let's.

There's a gas station I pass each night in Takoma Park, Md., that I've been using as my barometer of incredulity. It's $3.33 a gallon on Monday, then $3.45 on Wednesday, and $3.67 on Friday . . . you get the idea. You've seen the same thing in your neighborhood, and you've probably muffled the same curse words (or screamed them out the window) as you drive by.

And then we read that the oil companies are making billions, and that the president wants to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and that airfares are going through the roof because of high fuel costs . . . and watch out, that Hummer nearly cut you off in the next lane. The scary economy doesn't help matters, of course. According to an AOL/Zogby International survey released Friday, "57% of Americans feel they have less money to spend this year on summer vacations than they did in 2007 and are looking at ways to save on their travel costs." It says fuel costs, natch, are a big reason for the concern.

And now this: Airlines have started flying slower to save fuel. According to an Associated Press report, the carriers are saving thousands by just adding a few minutes to flight times. But the savings add up. According to the report, "JetBlue adds an average of just under two minutes to each flight, and saves about $13.6 million a year in jet fuel. Adding just four minutes to its flights to and from Hawaii saves Northwest Airlines $600,000 a year on those flights alone."

Nice. I'm okay with a few more minutes in the air if it's going to save on fuel.

But will I slow down? Am I going to start driving a few mph slower to save fuel? I have to be honest here: I don't think so. I know I should, but if people are zipping by me, I'm always inclined to step on the gas a little harder. I wince when I fill my tank, but I'm still going to travel this summer, by driving to the beach and to the Eastern shore and to the mountains. I'm already spending less in restaurants and haven't been to the movies in a while, but I do plan on hitting the road whenever I can.

So here's the question: What about you? Are you guys doing anything differently now that a gallon of gas is approaching four bucks?

By John Deiner |  May 5, 2008; 6:37 AM ET  | Category:  John Deiner , Monday Rants , Travel Logistics , Travel Strategies
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Woo hoo, glad I ride metro and get my subsidized metrocheks!

No plans to curtail driving as we are making one (1) vacation drive this year to NC. Otherwise, we drive to my son's preschool 3x/week (7 miles each way) and to the grocery store 1 or 2x/week (2 miles each way).

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2008 8:29 AM

I hope gas prices keep going up.
To answer the question - not yet doing anything differently.
Still drive ~6 miles to work, ~10 miles to daycare, ~2 miles to grocery / farmer's market.
Maybe we will finally realize that we haven't been paying the true costs of gas and fight for restrictions / regulations on the oil and credit card companies - read, higher mpg standard and restrictions on credit card fees.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2008 9:04 AM

Another self-righteous public transportation commuter here. So, nope - not doing anything different. If you only buy a tank of gas every month or two, you don't really notice the price.

Posted by: h3 | May 5, 2008 9:20 AM

About all I've been doing differently has been to fill up more often (i.e., when the tank is still half-full) under the theory that the price is just going to go up some more during the coming week, so I might as well top off at the "cheaper" price. I still intend to drive on my vacation this summer after several years of flying, but then, I've found in the past that on long drives at an average 70 mph on the highway in sixth gear I generally average around 30 mpg.

A $1 increase in the price of a gallon of gas works out to an additional $540 a year if you fill up three times a month at 15 gallons per fillup. Even if you fill up some more such that it works out to an extra $750 a year, I think there are a LOT of people in the DC area for whom that's just not enough money that they even notice it. Before someone accuses me of snobbery, consider that in the last census the average income in Fairfax County was reported as $90,000 ("average" implying that a lot of people make more, although surely a lot make less too). I have to think that if you're making over $100,000 a year you probably won't get bent out of shape about spending $540 on gas.

Posted by: Rich | May 5, 2008 10:07 AM

I stopped my regular museum volunteering gig, since I live about 90 miles away from it, and had to go two or three times a month.

So I've gone back to filling up my gas tank only every 4-6 weeks.

I'm also looking into a Vespa for my local errands so I don't have to fill my big gas tank as much during warm weather months. (I'd ride a regular bike, but there's a high percentage of car/bike accidents out here...)

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 5, 2008 10:21 AM

We like to take long weekend trips in the summer. However, this year our trips will not be further north than NYC, further west than Pittsburgh and further south than Raleigh.

And if airlines want to save money, stop putting your flight crews up at $250/night hotels! Can't they stay at Courtyard, Hampton, etc.? I always see them coming out of very expensive hotels that are not near the airport. It's probably something in the union contract.

Posted by: Dan | May 5, 2008 11:51 AM

I read in the paper that people were buying more small cars and giving up on SUVs, but I was out on the highway this weekend and can report that just ain't true. The highway was jammed with SUVs, generally with just the driver in the vehicle. If Americans are concerned about the price of gas, you certainly hear about it on the radio, but you don't see it on the highways.

Posted by: Tom | May 5, 2008 1:04 PM

About planes flying slower. The crazy thing is that planes have been flying slower and slower for 50 years. When the jet age started, airlines went full throtle on the new 707s, but since then they have been slowing down more and more every year to save gas. Not just the past few years either, but for a long time. You can see it in travel schedules. I have a Pan Am book from the late 1950s listing travel times and if you compare them to Expedia, 1958 was faster than 2008. Of course, Amtrak's time are slower than trains were 100 years ago. And today's cruise ships travel slower than the Titanic, which sunk in 1912. And our highways, even though speed limits are back up to where they were in the 1940s, are actually much slower due to heavy traffic. I guess everything slows down over time, myself included.

Posted by: Tom | May 5, 2008 1:09 PM

Gas still isn't expensive enough, if stupid Americans are still buying (or driving!) SUVs in place of normal cars. Cmon folks, there's a reason we consume so damn much gasoline. The composition of the fleet is one thing (those oversized monsters you drive to get your oversized fast food), and sprawl and poor development planning is the other.

That's largely why the rest of the world isn't screaming as much about as we are about high fuel prices.

Posted by: Gas Not Expensive enough | May 5, 2008 3:40 PM

Another reason the rest of the world isn't screaming as much as we are about fuel prices: they already pay lots more than we do! The current average price of gasoline in Britain is 1.10 pound per liter, or approximately $10 per gallon. To the best of my knowledge that's due to taxes. How'd you like to fill up the Excursion at those prices?

Posted by: BxNY | May 5, 2008 5:31 PM

FYI Dan, Airlines bid out on accommodations for their flight crews. Just because you might pay $250.00 a night at a particular Hotel, don't assume the airlines are. Those are guaranteed rooms, so hotels will certainly bid at lower than even a AAA or AARP rate. If you consider that the smallest crew has 3 people, and the larger jets might have as many as 7 or more, all with their own rooms it adds up for the hotels. Also, if possible they do like to put up their crews in places that give them an option of doing something other than just hibernating in their rooms.

I myself haven't had a car for about 5 years, so I am sort of glad I am not noticing the pain at the pumps, unless I rent one. I might rent a car for a long weekend in the fall for a road trip, but it will depend if gas goes over $4 by then. But I am going to Vegas in July and renting a car (staying off strip most of the time, and I want to see a little bit of the area) while I am there. But I much prefer to visit places where I can rely on public transportation to get to what I want to do.

Posted by: rja112 | May 5, 2008 8:59 PM

I'm afraid those of us with even a small (Honda CRV) SUV are just like people with their obnoxious cell phones in public: you feel like you just can't give it up. (I don't own a cell phone...yet.) When the public promises not to talk on cell phones in public (or while driving!) I will give up my safe SUV. Neither SUV nor cell phone is absolutely necessary, but we feel it may be safer to have one-- just in case.

Posted by: I've got a small one | May 7, 2008 9:37 PM

If you think gasoline prices are bad in the US, wait till you try to dirve in France! Nowadays, even though we own a car, we opt for the train for trips between Paris and Normandy. By taking the train, we don't have to pay for city parking in Paris. Once you're in Paris, you really don't need a car.

Posted by: Parisgirl at | May 8, 2008 11:51 AM

Hello megabus! At possibly getting to Toronto for $4 round trip, I think that I will visit that lovely city soon.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2008 4:13 PM

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