High Pump Prices Put Dent In Driving Habits

High gas prices appear to have prompted Americans to cut back on driving. New government numbers show gas consumption at a five-year low. Motorists talk about how they're adapting.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The evolution in the auto industry continues. Today Toyota said it would start making its hybrid, Prius, in the U.S. for the first time. They will also cut down on production of some pickups and SUVs.

Replacing gas-guzzlers is one way to cope with high fuel costs. Another is to drive less. NPR's Tovia Smith spoke to some people who are doing just that.

TOVIA SMITH: When gas prices started climbing up toward $4.00 a gallon, 22-year-old Molly Hawk(ph) says it didn't really take her long to figure out she needed to quit driving everywhere.

Ms. MOLLY HAWK (Driver): Definitely a no-brainer.

SMITH: Hawk says without even realizing at first, she found herself riding her bike and walking more, but she recently made a more deliberate decision to move into the city, where she can take public transportation.

Ms. HAWK: I'm actually planning on getting rid of my car because all my money's going to gas, so I've decided to just get rid of it.

SMITH: New government numbers show she's not alone. Drivers have cut their use of fuel to a five-year low.

Ms. DEJA WILSON (ph): It's cheaper to get on the bus. You might as well just get on the bus. Just common sense.

SMITH: Twenty-year-old Deja Wilson(ph) says she used to have a car, then she relied on friends. Now she and 17-year-old Neela Williams(ph) say even that's become harder.

Ms. NEELA WILLIAMS: You ever try to get a ride from somebody, and it's like, oh, I'll give you $5.00, and I'll put five in the tank. You can't even do that anymore. $5.00 will get you out the gas station and back to the gas station. So it's not worth it. You might as well just walk.

SMITH: Wilson says she even got a new job at a restaurant that's walking distance from her home. Today they took Williams' car but deliberately parked it several blocks up and across the road from the coffee shop they're heading to.

Ms. WILSON (Car Owner): That right there, that's $4.00 to get to the other side.

Ms. WILLIAMS: $8.00 to get back.

Ms. WILSON: Just get out and walk, yeah.

Ms. WILLIAMS: Don't be lazy.

SMITH: But there are some at this gas station, just outside Boston, especially those running businesses, who say they drive and buy gas as much as ever. They have no choice. Dan Benott(ph), a Mason, has managed to cut just a little; for example, when he needs to buy materials like stone or sand.

Mr. DAN BENOTT (Mason): Just have it delivered, you know what I mean? Instead of running around and...

SMITH: But they must charge you for that.

Mr. BENOTT: They do. There is a fuel surcharge at the bottom, and that has gone up, but we pass it on to the customer. So our prices, as far as our estimates, don't go up. It's like material's gone up.

SMITH: And that's easier to do than raise your rates.

Mr. BENOTT: Exactly.

SMITH: The high price of gas has changed the way Benott vacations too. Instead of taking four or five fishing trips on his family's motor boat like he usually does, this summer he's taking just one.

Mr. BENOTT: It's just ridiculous. It costs $1,000 to go down to Newport and back just in fuel alone. It's skyrocketed. All the boaters that have motorboats won't go. People are just sitting in their docks drinking (unintelligible) go out. They'd just rather stay in the slips, you know, and just socialize down there than take the occasional day trip.

SMITH: Benott says he's actually looking to sell his motorboat.

Mr. BENOTT: I'm working on a sailboat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: They're more fuel efficient.

Mr. BENOTT: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

SMITH: With so many Americans looking to buy less gas, you'd think the gas stations were hurting, and many are, but not this one. Sales are actually up here 10 percent, the manager says, because high gas prices have forced two other stations down the road to close up. Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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