WASHINGTON – High gasoline prices already had most people cutting back on driving before the shutdown of an Alaska pipeline threatened to push costs even higher. However, few drivers are making bigger changes, such as carpooling or using mass transit.
Fifty-five percent of drivers said they had reduced their driving because of high gas prices, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. About one in five said they had started carpooling or sharing rides more often, while 12 percent said they had begun using mass transit more often.
Economists say Americans' dependence on the automobile makes it unlikely drivers will change their driving habits dramatically, regardless of price increases, at least in the short term.
"There are small ways to cut down on driving. But in comparison to other products, there is no substitute for gasoline or for driving," said Matthew Lewis, assistant professor of economics at Ohio State University. "You probably can't buy a smaller car (in the short term). And people can't change where they live or where they work."
BP Alaska announced Monday it was closing its Prudhoe Bay oil field because of corrosion in feeder pipelines that transport oil into the trans-Alaska pipeline. The field accounts for about 400,000 barrels of oil a day.
Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economics professor, said gas prices would have to stay high for a long time for consumption to drop significantly.
"To really cut down energy consumption would require you to buy a new car and move closer to work," Goolsbee said. "That is extremely expensive to do and very disruptive to our lives."
The poll of 1,048 drivers was conducted June 20 to July 16. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.