It’s tempting to assume that a silver lining to the astronomical cost of gasoline is that higher prices have helped to reduce traffic this summer. Unfortunately, that's not what's happening.
As drivers continue to look for ways to beat the pain at the pump, Americans are likely to continue to log as many miles as ever.
From daily activities and routines to summer trips and vacations, there are some logical reasons we’ll continue be in our cars all summer long (and beyond.)
Gas is inelastic
Elasticity is an economic concept that means that demand for a good or service can shrink and grow depending on the price. If something is elastic, it means that people will buy more when that thing is cheap and buy less when it’s expensive.
However, if something is inelastic, it means that people use a consistent amount no matter what it costs. They cannot reduce consumption even if the item becomes expensive.
Gas has traditionally been inelastic since most people don’t do a lot of optional driving. That means they cannot reduce their driving even when gas is expensive. Most people have a lower limit of driving they must do to function in daily life, and they can’t do less than that.
Public transportation is inadequate
Many American communities don’t have adequate public transportation. According to the American Public Transportation Association, 45% of Americans don’t even have access to any public transportation.
These people have to drive to work, day camps, daycare for kids, the grocery store — even cookouts and softball games. People have reduced the amount they drive as a way to avoid the financial stress of high gas prices. But if they want to live a normal life during the summer, they have to drive to the places they need and want to be.
Public transportation is not back to scale
In communities that do have public transportation, it may not be running at full capacity. Many of these systems have been scaled back or reduced during the pandemic because of COVID-19 safety precautions, public transportation workers sick with COVID-19, and a lack of demand as workers work from home.
While some of these public transportation systems are back up and running, few are back up to their previous capacity. Car commutes make more sense now than they may have in 2019. That means that even with more people working from home, traffic might not be as reduced as you would expect.
Employers are experimenting with schedules
Employers are confused about how to reconcile their investments in real estate and office locations with the new reality that employees would largely rather work from home and not have to commute anymore.
From the moment pandemic precautions were lifted, employers began to experiment with policies requiring employees to be back in an office location at least one or two days a week. The results of these hybrid work policies mean more employees are driving to work again, at least occasionally.
Pro tip: If you use your car primarily to commute to work, check out these tips for saving money on car insurance.
We’re sick of being inside
People have been careful about taking COVID-19 precautions for two long years. That means we haven’t seen family and friends who live far away, and we have missed out on vacations and sending our kids to sleepaway camps.
In short, we haven’t been able to do many of the normal things that keep us feeling connected.
Many of us have been saving for a summer vacation this year. Travelers are aching to get back to taking trips, and parents are desperate to give their kids something that feels normal and healthy. If they can afford the gas to drive and see their families or to take a real vacation, they’re going to do so.
Air travel is utter chaos
Recently, thousands of airline flights have been delayed or canceled, and airline ticket prices are climbing steadily. For the average traveler, this means that they’re paying more without even being sure they’ll arrive at their destination.
Some people have decided that air travel is not the way to take an affordable summer trip and prefer to drive. The odds of saving money can be high, especially for two or more people on the same trip, once gas prices and time and effort are factored in.
Pro tip: If you have to get on a plane this summer, you can rack up points and rewards for future trips by using one of the best airline credit cards.
We’re focused on gas consumption, not on driving less
Americans like to have our cake and to eat it too. So, even environmentally conscious drivers are not inclined to drive less.
Instead of giving up cars, these drivers may turn to electric and hybrid vehicles. While this is a win for the environment overall, for drivers in the short term — and for the economy over the longer term — we’ll still have the same number of cars on the road, they’ll just be more fuel-efficient.
We’ll save the world, but we’ll still sit in traffic.
While in theory, it might make sense that high gas prices would keep people at home and off the road, the reality is that we all have to keep living our daily lives. And after years of being locked inside, we’re not willing to delay vacations anymore, either.
The high cost of gas is unlikely to keep many of us off the roads this summer. The best you can do is reduce the amount you drive and use one of the top credit cards for saving on gas the next time you fill up.