Many things could explain the slower rise in American demand for gasoline in the last month, but the $3-a-gallon price has to be a factor. CNN reports that the Energy Information Administration says demand over the past four weeks was up 0.4 per cent over the same period a year ago; the average annual rise over the last 10 years or so has been 1.5 per cent. CNN cites other sources showing varying data, but all pointing in the same direction.
Could be a fluke. Could be part of a general economic slowdown. Maybe bad weather kept people at home.
But it’s certainly one piece of circumstantial evidence for the idea that prices affect consumers’ behaviour, a rule to which gasoline has frequently seemed to be a bizarre exception. Surveys and other research have suggested that demand for gasoline isn’t that responsive to price, with a gallon having to cost something like $4 before consumers started to make major changes to their consumption.
Then again, maybe these adjustments just take time. Rearranging your travel patterns — whether it’s by carpooling, resolving to bike more, or maybe by doing something as significant as moving — takes time. You have to spend a lot of time contemplating prices and tank capacities in your head before deciding it’s worth changing your life, then think about what you’re actually going to do, then do it. That’s a long pipe.