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Thread: The impact of gas prices on commuting costs

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The impact of gas prices on commuting costs

    Another thread got me thinking about how rising gas prices will impact the ability of companies and communities to attract a workforce. I believe many rural places will be hit especially hard due to a combination of 1) overall lower fuel economy of vehicles in rural areas, which tend to be older and are more likely to be an SUV/light truck; 2) longer commuting distances for rural workers; and 3) lower wages typical of rural workers. I created a spreadsheet model to test the impacts of changes to these variables. I'd love to get some feedback on whether this is the kind of tool planners and others find useful.

    Excuse the blog link, but that's where I have it posted. http://placedynamics.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/198/
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    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Interesting concept. One thing to factor in is the commute time. Greensburg city hall is 43.2 miles from my home, but it takes less than an hour. An hour commute can be typical in metro areas. I hated the drive time, gas was in the $300/mo range, would have loved a four day week. And remember that rural guys love their trucks.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I really had rural places in mind when I started. In my past work I have often encountered rural employers complaining of not being able to find workers, a significant percentage of workers commuting 50 miles or more, and wades often starting at around $10-12 per hour. The question I always have is whether these workers will continue to be willing to commute if the cost of gas rises. There are many implications to the question. Will the workers shift to lower-wage jobs closer to home? Will they move to have access to jobs, and what may that mean for the small towns they leave? Will employers leave if they cannot get a dispersed workforce to commute to their factory?

    The model uses defaults for 28% SUV/light truck use in urban areas and 52% in rural areas. The average commute in urban areas is 8.2 miles, and 12.7 miles in rural areas. The override capabilities let the user plug in different values, so that your 43.2 mile commute would cost the average rural person $15.00 per day, or 11.64% of their gross pay, assuming gas cost $3.50 per gallon. A one dollar increase in the price of gas would add $4.29 to the daily cost of commuting.
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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I really had rural places in mind when I started. In my past work I have often encountered rural employers complaining of not being able to find workers, a significant percentage of workers commuting 50 miles or more, and wades often starting at around $10-12 per hour. The question I always have is whether these workers will continue to be willing to commute if the cost of gas rises. There are many implications to the question. Will the workers shift to lower-wage jobs closer to home? Will they move to have access to jobs, and what may that mean for the small towns they leave? Will employers leave if they cannot get a dispersed workforce to commute to their factory?

    The model uses defaults for 28% SUV/light truck use in urban areas and 52% in rural areas. The average commute in urban areas is 8.2 miles, and 12.7 miles in rural areas. The override capabilities let the user plug in different values, so that your 43.2 mile commute would cost the average rural person $15.00 per day, or 11.64% of their gross pay, assuming gas cost $3.50 per gallon. A one dollar increase in the price of gas would add $4.29 to the daily cost of commuting.
    That's cool.

    We really are near the tip of the spear wrt live-work separation, travel-rent shares of total wages, and an economy with a dependence on consumer spending when capital seeks to drive down wages right to the bottom. It will be interesting how it works out. But relevant to or profession, it will be interesting to see the dynamic of who puts up with denser renting to cut travel expenses, and how well they adjust to that type of living. What will happen to the McMansions of a bygone age? Will they convert to two-family/two-household units? How will they get to anywhere in energy descent?

    How we adjust out of the era of cheap everything will be written about for years and years - lots of bytes will be spilled chronicling the change.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Rising price of gas, vehicle maintenance etc. should be a factor that promotes more public transit or some form of transportation.Public transport will be a necessity as time goes on.
    The attitude shift needs to occur in regards to public transport not being viewed as a mode of transportation for "those people."
    Discussion about density would follow from there.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cyke View post
    Public transport will be a necessity as time goes on. The attitude shift needs to occur in regards to public transport not being viewed as a mode of transportation for "those people."
    Discussion about density would follow from there.
    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    Interesting concept. One thing to factor in is the commute time. .
    One of the quickest ways to get up the ladder in Murrica is to have your own vehicle, to gain time spent waiting on transit (my wife has days where she just can't spend the time on light rail and will drive in). Second, light rail is seen as less of a stigma than buses. The first discussion about density is how to deliver transit to typical residential densities, where today it is uneconomical. The next discussion is who will put up with density when transport prices get too high, and who won't live among "those people" in density, no how no way nosirree.
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  7. #7
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    One of the quickest ways to get up the ladder in Murrica is to have your own vehicle, to gain time spent waiting on transit (my wife has days where she just can't spend the time on light rail and will drive in). Second, light rail is seen as less of a stigma than buses. The first discussion about density is how to deliver transit to typical residential densities, where today it is uneconomical. The next discussion is who will put up with density when transport prices get too high, and who won't live among "those people" in density, no how no way nosirree.
    You are right about stigma--that is something that is difficult to overcome. There is also the question of time--are the schedules and speeds of the public transit reasonably competitive with the private auto.

    I've also long been fascinated by ultra light rail systems/minitrams as a potential solution to address lower density areas at a lower cost, particularly with automation.

    There will be a lot of discussions about adding density without sacrificing the character of some areas, etc. Not an easy task, but not impossible. I really don't think a lot of people realize what 25 units/acre or 50 units/acre looks like--we're not talking about high-rises, and you're really only talking about those densities around rail stations. A lot of people freak out about 10-12 units/acre until you show them a picture of what it can look like--that it can still look & function much like the single-family detached products they're used to, just with minor modifications. Density can be nice & attractive with backyards, etc. (albeit smaller), and still keep the sense of privacy that people often seek with the single-family detached approach. I'm rambling, but my basic point is that we, as planners, need to do a better job of listening and addressing people's concerns related to higher density in order to have any hope of implementing policies to promote it and, more importantly, for "average joe's" to get on board with that slightly revised version of the American Dream.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I figured out my commuting costs for each day at $3.50, $4, and $5 just to see what it would run me.

    Also I calculated my cost for which car I use - my Honda or my wife's bigger vehicle.

    My Car
    $3.5 - $7.47
    $4 - $8.53
    $5 - $10.67

    Other Car
    $3.5 - $11.79
    $4 - $13.47
    $5 - $16.84

    So per week it is around $70... just for commuting. If I took a job that I could walk to, I could take it at $3460 less per year and break even. Also, if you think about the wear and tear on your car, that number is probably higher...
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink View post
    I figured out my commuting costs for each day at $3.50, $4, and $5 just to see what it would run me.
    Good idea... This is how it shakes out for my wife and I. We carpool 4 out of 5 days each week, which cuts down our fuel bill. Our cars get the same MPG

    Daily Commute Cost

    $3.50 - $4.97
    $4.00 - $5.68
    $5.00 - $7.10

    Weekly Commute Cost

    $3.50 - $29.82
    $4.00 - $34.08
    $5.00 - $42.60

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  10. #10
    Quote Originally posted by Hink View post
    I figured out my commuting costs for each day at $3.50, $4, and $5 just to see what it would run me.

    If I took a job that I could walk to, I could take it at $3460 less per year and break even. Also, if you think about the wear and tear on your car, that number is probably higher...
    I walk to work. Shoes wear out faster.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I guess I would still ask to what extent, medium-term as people replace their cars, if the first thing Americans in general will do (before moving closer to work, spending more on housing, accepting smaller homes, or switching jobs) will be to move to a more fuel-efficient fleet, thru millions of individual choices. I know short-term this is not a solution for many people, especially those earning $10-$15 an hour, facing rising health care costs, etc.

    I understand that in asking this question specific to rural areas, Cardinal and others point out how much rural people drive and like big trucks - in part out of necessity (hauling things, doing projects, driving in uncertain weather) and in part truly out of cultural preference. The cultural preference certainly can't be discounted - I recall a couple of inspectors I worked with, nice people, who were convinced "Obama will take our trucks away;" and certainly few of my fellow high schoolers in Kentucky needed monster truck tires. But at some point cultural preference comes into direct conflict with one's personal economic reality, and then choices have to be made - one reason I like market-based approaches to environmental decisions. That said, aren't there light pick-ups that are fairly fuel efficient and can also satisfy the rural demand to have a truck?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by docwatson View post
    ...aren't there light pick-ups that are fairly fuel efficient and can also satisfy the rural demand to have a truck?
    Light trucks are classified the same as SUVs and get comparable mileage. The fuel economy numbers I used are not for new vehicles, but an average for vehicles in use. In reality, I would expect you would find more older vehicles on the road in rural areas, which could result in poorer fuel economy. However, the fuel statistics are not available on a rural/urban split. The fuel economy number in the model is determined based on the percentage of cars/light trucks multipled by the respective fuel economy of each type.

    Interestingly, I work from home. My commute is unaffected by the price of gas. On the other hand, travel to clients scattered across the US is affected.
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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    we, as planners, need to do a better job of listening and addressing people's concerns related to higher density in order to have any hope of implementing policies to promote it and, more importantly, for "average joe's" to get on board with that slightly revised version of the American Dream.
    All my meetings have posters extensively depicting different densities without labeling them, but asking you to guess what the density is in the depiction. Works pretty well.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

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