Consumers Making Long-Term Changes in Driving Patterns

Working closer to home, working less, buying more fuel-efficient cars

Published in CSP Daily News

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. -- Americans are making lasting changes in their driving patterns as a result of two-and-a-half years of record gasoline prices, according to a new survey conducted by research firm The NPD Group. The survey of 43,000 drivers captures the temporary/short-term changes consumers are making to cope with rising gasoline prices—modifying vacation plans, carpooling—and the longer-term changes, like changing jobs to work closer to home or moving closer to work, which began to emerge when inflation-adjusted gasoline prices soared to unprecedented levels.

"Gasoline [image-nocss] prices reached inflation adjusted highs in the fall of 2005, which is different than previous gas price spikes when gas was still relatively inexpensive," said David Portalatin, director of industry analysis for NPD Group's automotive division. "The longevity and degree to which gasoline prices have surpassed inflation adjusted highs has caused people to make significant, long-term changes to deal with high gasoline prices."

According to Portalatin, the shorter term changes are likely to reverse when fuel prices go down, but the longer-term changes will most likely be permanent. "People don't decide overnight to change jobs or move," he said. "As in 1981, the last period when we saw record high inflation-adjusted gas prices, these decisions are made over time when gasoline price spikes sustain historic highs for more than a year. Even if gas prices drop, many of these behaviors will remain, representing a new 'normal' level of driving pattern behavior."

In related news, Maryland attorney general Douglas F. Gansler has announced agreements with major car rental companies that will drastically reduce refueling fees charged to customers renting cars in Maryland. Following an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General, the companies agreed to decrease refueling fees, which can be as high as $8 per gallon, by as much as 40%.

"Marylanders are already hurting at the gas pump, and paying $8 per gallon is just salt in the wound," said Gansler. "Today, we have made it easier to visit and do business in Maryland, and these agreements can be a national model for states that want fair pricing."

In response to the investigation, each of the rental car companies agreed to bring their charges within Maryland more closely in line with prevailing prices for full-service fuel, plus a refueling service fee averaging between 135 to 142% of the prevailing price on a per-gallon price, or a flat rate of up to $10 per vehicle. For example, prior to the agreements, a consumer would have paid an $8 per gallon refueling fee. After the agreements, the same consumer will now pay a $5.85 per gallon refueling fee, the equivalent of 140% of the prevailing price of full-service fuel.

As a result of these agreements, Maryland will have among the lowest, if not the lowest, rental vehicle refueling charges in the nation. Prior to the negotiation of these agreements, Enterprise Rent A Car and its affiliated companies, Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental, already posted refueling fees consistent with the new agreement.

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consumer trends