In a rush to nowhere

How high will gasoline need to before there is a fundamental change in driving habits? My teammate Tris and I have talked about this several times, and as I recall our guess was $6/gallon.

I’ve noticed some small change already: I now see 5-10 bikes parked outside at work, where last year there were maybe one or two. I know I’ve passed on going to some races this year because of fuel cost.

I’ve also become obsessed with watching the fuel efficiency display in my VW Passat. You can see the ‘instantaneous’ MPG, as well as trip MPG calculation.

What’s interesting about this — and this really shouldn’t be a surprise — is how much you can affect the MPG by how you drive. Let’s take the drive between home and work. If I drive the way most people do — in a hurry, 10 miles over the speed limit, accelerating quickly and braking hard, I get about 28 miles per gallon. Not bad, actually.

But If I drive more consciously, I can get 32-33 MPG. All I need to do is not accelerate so quickly, ease off the gas going downhill then not accelerate so much going up hill, slow down or coast when I know a red light is coming, and just generally drive a bit slower. This all adds maybe 1 or 2 minutes onto a 15-18 minute commute.

I’m pretty sure I can get the MPG higher. Except the other drivers would be even more annoyed than they seem to be now.

Yesterday on the way home a guy flipped me off as I turned onto my street, because I wasn’t going fast enough (maybe 2 miles under the limit) up a small hill on SR 87. Drivers ride my bumper if I’m not going at least 7 miles over the limit, or pass as I approach a light, even though they will have to stop anyway.

Why is it that people feel they shouldn’t ever be delayed or inconvenienced in any way? You can see how we’ve contributed to the current oil situation, and how it will continue. We can’t bear to give up our habit of driving anywhere, anytime, and as fast as possible.

This is an aspect of the same mentality that creates hassles between drivers and cyclists. A bike on the road is an inconvenience — something that slows the manic rush to somewhere. But where are we going?

Gas at $6 a gallon? I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.



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3 responses to “In a rush to nowhere

  1. Must admit that I have long been a “rush to nowhere” type of driver. This year, when I must drive, I have made a conscious effort to change that habit.

    Driving slower is hard though. My weekly trips to Westlake are a testament to that. Rather than 72- 75 mph, I’m driving 67 – 70 mph. May not seem like much, but it feels very different. I much prefer to be passing or at least going as fast as other traffic.

    You are spot-on though. When I am driving 5 or less mph over the speed limit, people are always tail-gating. It’s disconcerting.

    If anyone has noticed, the police are more actively patrolling for speeders. This is a national mandate to get drivers to slow down in an effort to conserve fuel. 2 weeks ago as I drove to Westlake, I saw more patrol cars on I-90 than I’ve seen in the past year! It works. Through the 60mph zone on 90, no one was driving more than 65mph. Amazing.

    – – – –

    USA today reports that drivers in the U.S. drove 22 billion fewer miles from Nov ’07 to Apr ’08 than they did in the same period of ’06 to ’07. That’s huge.

    Also, I read that Ford sold more than 450,000 Explorer SUVs at its peak (’04 – ’05). Last month, Ford sold fewer than 8,000 and sales continue to drop each month. That puts Ford on target to sell fewer than 75,000 Explorers in ’08.

    My personal belief is that the gigantic increase in crude oil prices is driven primarily by rampant speculation in the futures market. After the crash of the housing market and the subsequent crash of the stock market, money has to flow somewhere. Commodities markets were ripe for the pickin’ and that’s where the 100’s of billions (if not trillions) of dollars have flowed.

    Gold, silver, other metals, agriculture (corn, soy, wheat, etc.) in addition to crude oil have all seen enormous increases in prices.

    However, there have been no significant events (such as middle east conflicts, disruption of flow, natural disasters) that can be pinned to the increase in price. The U.S. is in a full-on recession which will continue to decrease demand. Asian countries are cutting back as well. In particular China, which wants to put on a pretty face for the summer olympics, has dramatically decreased oil imports.

    So why does the price of crude keep going up? Because 70% of the activity in the futures markets is from speculators. Only 30% of the contracts purchased are made by someone who actually plans to take delivery of the commodity.

    Tech bubble, Enron, real-estate bubble, sub-prime disaster … next up: Commodities. Mark my words, these markets will crumble. I have no idea when, but it will happen.

    For now, I will enjoy the slightly reduced amount of traffic out on the roads while I’m out on my bike.

  2. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks that speculation in the oil futures market is the primary cause for the current spike in prices.

  3. Brian

    I got 34MPG on the way home yesterday. Traffic was light so I was able to coast a bit more. Coming up on one stop sign I started to coast way in advance, slowing to maybe 10mph before coming to a stop. it’s amazing how much of a difference that can make.

    On the highway too … if I can stay in the 65-70 range my mileage is much better.

    I’ve read both sides of the oil price argument … some that say it’s due to speculation, and some that also say the demand supports such prices. I would guess also though that the price will come down at some point, but probably not to below $100 per barrel again.

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