Saturday, 22 June 2024

Gas usage down across county, state, nation

LAKE COUNTY – Even though gas prices aren’t as steep as they were last year, federal, state and local officials are reporting that gas usage and driving overall are down.

Late last month, the state Board of Equalization released a new report on the first quarter of 2009, which is the 12th consecutive three-month period in which Californians used less gasoline. The report also shows diesel use is down.

The Board of Equalization monitors gallons of gasoline and diesel sold through tax receipts paid by fuel distributors.

“For three full years now consumers have cut down on the amount of fuel they use. High gasoline prices, use of more efficient vehicles and the downturn in the economy are all likely contributors to this trend,” said Board of Equalization Chairwoman Betty T. Yee.

In the first quarter of 2009, Californians used 213 million gallons less than the first quarter of 2008, which is a decline of 5.6 percent, according to the Board of Equalization report.

In addition, the agency reported that, for all of 2008, California gas consumption compared to the previous year declined 4.1 percent, a much larger decrease than the 1.0 percent drop in 2007.

The report also compared gas consumption between March 2008 and March 2009. This March, Californians used 1.3 billion gallons, down 30.2 million gallons compared to the previous March.

The Board of Equalization noted that the average California gasoline price at the pump in March was $2.24 per gallon, a 38-percent decline from the average price the same month last year when it was $3.61. Gasoline sold at the lower price in March 2009 generated approximately $211 million in sales tax during that month, an estimated $137 million less than was generated in March 2008.

Diesel consumption also is down. The Board of Equalization's recent report noted that diesel use was down 11.6 percent in the first quarter of 2009 from the first quarter in 2008.

California diesel consumption decreased 8.3 percent in 2008, which the agency said reflects the impacts of the national recession that is associated with much less freight movement on California roads and highways.

Approximately 619 million gallons of diesel fuel were sold in California in the first quarter of this year, which the Board of Equalization reported is 80.9 million gallons less than the first quarter of 2008.

The year-over changes in diesel consumption in the state were less than those seen with gasoline. Diesel fuel sold in March 2009 declined 0.5 percent over March 2008; the total used was 240 million gallons, which is 1.3 million gallons below the previous March.

The Board of Equalization credited declines in diesel consumption – despite a steep decrease in prices – to the effects of the recession. In March, California diesel prices were $2.14 per gallon, down 47 percent compared to March 2008 when the average diesel price was $4.01 per gallon.

Local gas sales and impacts on travel

Doug Gearhart, Lake County’s pollution control officer, said the Lake County Air Quality Management District gathers information on retail gasoline sales as part of its annual permitting. That information, he noted, doesn’t include agricultural use.

From March 2008 through March 2009, there were 21.6 million gallons of gasoline sold in Lake County. The previous year, March 2007 to March 2008, there were 24 million gallons of gasoline sold locally, Gearhart said.

He said the 21.6 million mark is likely the base usage for Lake County residents.

“With all the summer wildfires our tourist traffic was very low,” he said.

Driving declines in rural areas like Lake are outpacing those seen in urban areas, according to a report by the federal Department of Transportation.

The agency noted that the United States is into its second year of a decline in mileage.

The agency reported that there were seven billion fewer miles traveled this past January than in the same month the previous year, or a 3.1-percent drop. The agency reported that this was the first “ back-to-back“ decline for January since 1981-1982.

That’s part of a much larger trend of declining mileage, which started in December of 2007, the same month, incidentally, as officials reported the US recession began.

From December 2007 through January 2009, there were 122 billion fewer vehicle miles traveled than the period of December 2006 through January 2008, the Department of Transportation reported.

More recent numbers for April show that travel on all roads and streets is estimated to be 249.5 billion vehicle miles, up by 0.6 percent, or 1.4 billion vehicle miles, over April 2008. However, cumulative travel miles for 2009 is expected to be down by 1.1 percent, or 10 billion vehicle miles. The year's cumulative estimate is 933.2 billion vehicle miles.

Cynthia Harris, a spokesperson for AAA of Northern California, said the trend of driving and traveling less has been going on for several years.

Harris said normally there is a 1-percent annual increase in the number of travelers. “For the last year there has been a decrease, and that’s the first time since 9/11,” she said.

The reasons, said Harris, are high gas prices and peoples’ uncertainty over the economy.

She said people are still traveling for holidays, but are going shorter distances. When they do travel, they tend to stay with friends and family or come back the same day. That means less time in hotels, and more people driving instead of flying.

In July 2008, gasoline peaked at nearly $5 a gallon, said Harris. Yet, even though gas prices have gone down, people didn’t return to their previous levels of travel.

She said it’s likely due to caution that people now have, knowing that gas prices can spike. Consumers are savvy, and have caught on to the volatility of gas prices, she said. “People are very leery of that.”

The result, she said, is that the entire spectrum of the travel industry has been affected.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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