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Gas Prices Fuel Lifestyle Shift

This article is more than 11 years old.

As spring temperatures have soared this week, so has the price of gasoline.

A gallon of regular set a national record Tuesday, averaging $3.50 and hovering even higher in some states.

Many analysts say prices at the pump will have to hit $4 dollars per gallon before most Americans will seriously curtail their driving.

But as WBUR's Shannon Mullen reports, some Massachusetts residents are already rethinking their four-wheeling ways.

TEXT OF STORY:

[STREET, TRAFFIC SOUNDS]

SHANNON MULLEN: The average price of gas in Massachusetts is a few cents below the national average.

But a gallon of regular still costs almost 70 cents more than at this time last year.

[SOUND OF GAS CAP, NOZZLE]

This social worker, named Shannon, says it's tough to find a station in Boston selling it for less than $3.50.

SHANNON: I just spent $37.10...For ten gallons. I'm not going out to dinner this week so, definitely have to make choices, spend money in different ways now.

MULLEN: Is that what you've been doing, cutting back in other areas?

SHANNON: Yeah, such as we don't really have pizza night anymore, and I have kids, so we have to cut back on some of their activities because the gas to get them there, plus the cost of the activity.

MULLEN: Industry watchers say most Americans won't make more dramatic lifestyle changes until gas prices hit $4 per gallon.

But South Boston resident Victor Acosta says he's already passed his tipping point.

VICTOR ACOSTA: My wife and I had two cars; we're down to one car. We ditched one earlier this year when the gas prices were just starting to go crazy.

MULLEN: How much would you say this has saved you, money-wise?

ACOSTA: Oh boy, we were thinking about that the other day, used to be about $40 a week, per car, just for gas, and then pile on top of that savings on insurance and maintenance, so we're saving quite a bit of money.

MULLEN: Acosta says he and his wife both ride their bikes to work, dropping their infant daughter off at day care along the way.

Acosta trains triathletes in the Boston area, and he has to leave more time to bike to his appointments.

But he says the savings, and other benefits, far outweigh the hassles.

ACOSTA: So there's always a sense of calm that we're not rushing to get in the car to go somewhere.

MULLEN: So would you say you actually like life better, minus a car?

ACOSTA: You know I never thought I'd say that, but yes.

MULLEN: Other commuters are taking public transit to work, in higher numbers.

The MBTA said 'T' trips rose 5 percent in January and 11 percent in February.

That mirrors a national trend, according to the American Public Transportation Association, which cites gas prices as a major factor.

So what's driving those prices?

Rising oil futures, and at the same time supplies are falling, as oil refiners switch from winter grade gasoline to the more-expensive, less-polluting form of the fuel they're required to sell in summer.

Prices for diesel are setting records too, at around $4.20 per gallon.

That adds to the cost of shipping food and other goods, which can get passed on to consumers.

And then there's the troubled economy.

ART KINSMAN: I think people may be cutting back on driving somewhat for the first time, but I don't think it's a sea change. We'll have to see how it plays out as we go into the summer.

MULLEN: Art Kinsman is spokesman for AAA of Southern New England.

He says there's never been a gas price that made the masses stop driving.

But with $4 per gallon some 50 cents away, he adds that those who haven't yet made dramatic changes might not have a choice.

KINSMAN: You know as a society unfortunately we're set up to - you need a car to get where you want to go, for the most part, I think with these high gas prices however, people really should start looking at, when they're buying a new vehicle, making fuel economy one of the top, if not the top priority.

MULLEN: Drivers who take that advice could get some help from the federal government - albeit down the road. The Bush Administration this week proposed raising fuel efficiency standards for the next generation of cars and trucks, collectively, to an average of 31.6 miles per gallon, by the year 2015.

For WBUR, I'm Shannon Mullen.

This program aired on April 24, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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