Thursday, March 6, 2008

$4/gallon gasoline

They're talking about $4/gallon gas coming this spring. I've already seen gas stations with premium gas around $3.90 per gallon, and passed one the other day with Diesel #2 for $3.95/gallon. I live in California and I listen to national news, so when I hear about average gas prices I add at least thirty cents to the figure quoted. I noticed in Colorado and in Texas that their medium-octane gas is the same as our low-octane gas. As big as this state is, as famous as this state is for cars (can you hear me, SoCal?), we are also famous for our concerns about the environment.

I heard about a study that indicates that the high gas prices seem to be finally affecting people's driving behavior. They're buying less gasoline, so the studiers think folks are carpooling and using public transit a little more, and arranging errands in clumps to avoid driving back and forth across town. The radio story included a piece about two people who started carpooling their 100 miles to work when they realized how much they were spending on gasoline.

I did the math. Where is my tipping point? I'm one of the fortunate ones with a relatively short commute without toll roads, free parking at work, and a hybrid vehicle. Yesterday my drive home was almost 20 miles, and the car averaged 50 mpg on those miles. Taking BART from the station near home round trip would cost $6.20 and would involve a 30 minute walk through a tunnel next to the traffic in the morning and the evening. While the air's not as bad in the Posey Tube as I expected, the noise is unbelievable. I'm sure repeated exposure to both would damage my lungs and my hearing.

[Warning: I'm slightly math impaired so these figures are not guaranteed, but I think they are close enough for this purpose]

Let's just do some simple rounding and say that I use about 3/5th of a gallon each day to get to and from work. At $4/gallon, I'd be spending about $2.20's worth of gas for my round trip. I think that means that gasoline would have to be $12/gallon for BART (at current fares) to be more cost efficient, and I'd still have the 60 minutes of walking through a dirty and noisy tunnel to cost out.

If I got 12 mpg instead, like the guys in the radio piece with an SUV and a minivan respectively, I'd need about three gallons a day for my trip to and from work. If I worked in San Francisco, with a much longer commute, a bridge toll, and astronomical parking fees, I would take BART at $8/day (and I have). The Killer Lady drives to SF for work, but she needs her car for her job, and No drives to work in SF because he gets off work after BART stops running. Also, both have free parking (and No usually drives KT's Prius).

I know that these figures don't include wear and tear on the vehicle and the insurance. Maybe I break even there by being a partial carpooler: I drop Zirpu at a BART station near the house every morning and most evenings we drive home together from a station a couple miles from where I work.

I suspect that this could sound like a rationalization, but isn't math a rational science?

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