Recent changes in the price of gasoline and in the amount of driving
Ann Arbor MI March 28, 2022; One possible consequence of the recent jump in the price of gasoline in the United States might be a reduction in driving. This post briefly outlines the complexity of this issue and presents some recent data.
I must emphasize up front that no attempt will be made to offer any causal conclusions. This is the case because many other variables influence the amount of driving. The main such variables are currently the course of the pandemic, and our complex personal and societal reactions to it (e.g., changes in telecommuting and online shopping).
The pandemic clearly contributed to a crash of all major modes of transportation, with driving (by all vehicles on all roads) bottoming out with a reduction of 40% in April 2020 compared with pre-pandemic April 2019. However, it is not clear how the recent pandemic’s ups (in early 2022) and downs (during the last few weeks) interacted with distance driven. For example, it is possible that the jump in the gas price pulled the amount of driving down, while the decline in the pandemic pushed it up.
Consequently, instead of drawing any causal inferences, the data to be presented are offered as food for thought.
One set of data of interest in this post is the weekly amount of driving by passenger vehicles on interstate highways. This set comes from a unique FHWA database that is being updated with a delay of only 3 days. Below I will present the data for each of the first 11 weeks of 2022, with each covering Monday through Sunday. Importantly, FHWA lists the percentage changes in the weekly amounts of driving compared with the corresponding week in 2019 (the last year before the pandemic).
The other data set to be presented in the table below involves the corresponding changes in the price of gasoline. This was calculated for each of the same 11 weeks of 2022, by comparing the prices in 2022 and 2019 at the midpoint of each week in the FHWA set above—Thursdays. The raw data (the average daily national prices for regular gasoline) were kindly provided by GasBuddy.
Changes compared with the same week of 2019 (%)
|Price of gasoline||Amount of driving|
Michael Sivak is the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and the former director of Sustainable Worldwide Transportation at the University of Michigan.