ITD News
Associated Press
News Link

Oregonians learn to cope with higher gas prices

Biking, doing several errands in one trip and easing up on the air conditioning
are ways to cope with rising fuel prices

Lisa Grace Lednicer
The (Portland) Oregonian

Longing for the days when gasoline cost less than $1.50 a gallon? Transportation eggheads have three words for you: Get. Over. It.

Assuming you don't want to take out a second mortgage to gas up your Dodge Caravan or Ford Expedition, you could change your driving habits.

That means doing things we've been told to do for years to improve fuel economy: Don't speed. Avoid blasting the air conditioning. Stop idling, revving the engine and slamming on the brakes.

Cut down on all those short hops to the grocery store, the dry cleaner and the gym. Bundling those jaunts into one trip saves gas.

"People in the United States use their cars for things they don't need to use them for, like going three blocks to the grocery store when they could walk," said Julie Stockert, a math teacher who recently bought a hybrid vehicle. "People need to be aware of the fact that we have been privileged so long, and we need to pay our share for what's going on in the world."

The announcement last week that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would cut oil production -- combined with a shortage of refinery capacity and clean-air rules requiring different types of gasoline for different regions -- is expected to send prices soaring in the next few weeks, well ahead of the traditional spike during the heavy driving months of June, July and August.

According to, which relies on consumers to track prices for regular gasoline in the Portland area, a gallon of regular had reached $2.05 as of Friday evening at a Union 76 station at Southeast Sunnyside Road and Interstate 205.

That wasn't nearly as high as in California, where drivers were shelling out as much as $2.22 a gallon in Santa Barbara, a AAA spokesman said.

And prices have been higher: Using today's dollar, motorists paid the equivalent of $2.90 a gallon in March 1981, the government has said.

Elliott Eki, public affairs director for AAA Oregon, said he heard from a recreational vehicle owner who canceled a trip to the Grand Canyon because of escalating fuel prices. He predicted, however, that families will skimp on hotels and restaurants rather than skip trips.

"If you have kids, you don't want to disappoint them," he said. "There are going to be some tough choices people will have to make."

Hybrid vehicles conserve fuel, but getting one can seem as frustrating as standing in line for bread in the old Soviet Union. Mansour Gdarah, fleet manager for Ron Tonkin Toyota, said the Toyota Prius, which runs on a combination of gas and electricity, takes at least three months to arrive. His waiting list, he said, has grown to 75. He's even received calls from Californians.

Although TriMet officials said they haven't noticed a pronounced spike in ridership, the operations manager for South Metro Area Rapid Transit, the free bus service in Wilsonville, expects increases if the price of gasoline moves much past $2 a gallon.

That mark, Steve Allen said, is the psychological barrier drivers must cross before they contemplate chucking their cars for buses or car pools. Allen said he's downgraded from premium gasoline to midgrade and will consider filling his Subaru Outback with regular gasoline if the price continues to climb.

One of the easiest ways to cut down on drive time is to consolidate errands. A 1994-95 Metro survey of 5,000 households in Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington and Clark counties, the most recent available, showed that in a single nonwork trip from home and back, drivers made an average of 3.2 stops. The average distance of those trips was 4.4 miles.

Short of that, there's biking, walking and telecommuting. Or skateboarding, which in Portland is a legal way to commute.

"What you need," said Eki, the AAA spokesman, "is a skateboard with a sail on it, and let the wind blow you down the street."

Return to Transporter Main Page
The Transporter is updated on Fridays