Californians Bucking National Trend By Guzzling Less Gas

<p>While American drivers are burning record amounts of gas to feed their motoring habits, a weird thing is happening in the freeway state – Californians continue to consume less gasoline. Sustained high gas prices may play a role by changing behavior.</p>
August 4, 2007, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"California drivers are bucking a national trend by burning less fuel. The state Board of Equalization reported Tuesday (July 31) that gas use fell by nearly 1 percent in April, the most recent month for which it has statistics. That's down by 10.5 million gallons from a year ago and follows four straight quarters where Californians have used less gas than they did during the same period the year before.

Meanwhile, U.S. drivers have consumed a record 388 million gallons of gas on average every day during the first half of the year, up 1.5 percent from the same time a year ago, according to the American Petroleum Institute."

"This is fascinating," said Betty Yee, chairwoman of the Board of Equalization, which tracks the sales tax revenue collected from gas purchases. "Californians seem to be on the leading edge again," adding that while April's drop is less than 1 percent "it represents a persistent trend in consumer behavior."

"Californians burned almost 16 billion gallons in 2005, a figure that fell to 15.8 billion last year. The state is on pace to be even lower this year."

"Chris Knittel, an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, has studied driver behavior in relation to gas costs and says, "We are now observing what economists call long-run behavioral changes, such as choosing different cars or looking for shorter or less frequent commutes."

"Californians, because of their wealth on average, can more easily make these changes," Knittel said. "This, along with the fact that Californians on average are more environmentally conscious compared to the rest of the U.S."

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Published on Thursday, August 2, 2007 in The Oakland Tribune
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