Transportation | Ecotrope

Report: Has the Northwest reached "peak gas"?

Ecotrope | Sept. 14, 2011 7:22 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:35 p.m.

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The number of highway vehicle miles traveled in Oregon plateaus around the year 2000, according to this graph from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The Seattle-based Sightline Institute released a report today that argues the Northwest may have already reached the peak of its gasoline consumption.

The number of highway vehicle miles traveled in Oregon plateaus around the year 2000, according to this graph from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The Seattle-based Sightline Institute released a report today that argues the Northwest may have already reached the peak of its gasoline consumption.

Remember when Ezra Klein was wondering why Americans are driving less? Many, including Eric Hess at Seattle’s Sightline Institute, suggested the U.S. might be seeing a generational shift in driving based on data showing fewer vehicle miles driven by Americans between age 20 and 40.

Today Sightline released a detailed report on driving trends in the Northwest. According to author Clark Williams-Derry, gasoline consumption in Oregon and Washington has been flat since 1999. The trend has continued despite population growth, ups and downs in the economy and gas price volatility. Why? Williams-Derry writes it could be because the region has reached peak gas.

Among the likely reasons for the plateau in gas guzzling, he lists: Higher gas prices, more fuel-efficient vehicles, upticks in telecommuting and online socializing, aging baby boomers, slower population growth, economic uncertainty and changes in land-use for more concentrated, walkable neighborhoods.

Gas consumption could rise again if the economy rebounds, he notes, but it could also continue declining as cars and trucks become even more fuel efficient. Fewer gas sales won’t hurt the Northwest economy because neither Oregon nor Washington produces any petroleum, he writes, but the states could start seeing less gas tax money for highway maintenance.

With the emergence of electric cars, we’ve already seen Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber call for a state tax on electric vehicle mileage to make up for the lost gas tax. And then there’s the Oregon Department of Transportation’s grand plan to start paying for road work by leasing public land for solar highways.

What do you think? Has the Northwest reached peak gas? If the price of gas dropped tomorrow, would we all start driving more once again?

 

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