ALISON STEWART, host:
Now a note to all those TV news organizations out there. You can put away those "Pain at the Pump" graphics for now. The price of gas has dropped $1.20 on average since the more than $4-a-gallon price peak in July. But what does this mean for all the bus-riding and car-pooling people were doing to conserve when prices were so high? NPR's Tamara Keith reports.
TAMARA KEITH: At this Washington, D.C., gas station, lower fuel prices have just started to register with customers like Sharon Shepherd. She always puts $10 worth of gas in her white and slightly rusty Ford Explorer. And this time, it's going to take her further.
Ms. SHARON SHEPHERD: I honestly didn't pay attention to the price because I'm just used to coming in and getting gas, period.
KEITH: So are you surprised by the price?
Ms. SHEPHERD: Yes. It's low, very low. I think the last time I looked it was $3.60 some. And $3.09, that's good.
KEITH: So far this year Americans have cut their driving by tens of billions of miles, inspired largely by the big hole gas prices were burning in their wallets. That trend actually accelerated in the month of August even as gas prices started to come down. Melvin Lee says he changed a lot over the summer when gas prices were at their peak.
Mr. MELVIN LEE: I did more walking, did more public transportation. You know, you have to do what you got to do.
KEITH: Do you think that with gas cheaper, you'll drive more?
Mr. LEE: I don't think so. It ain't just the gas. It's the economy itself. You just have to save more and just use your money more wisely nowadays.
KEITH: Transportation experts say it's people like Lee who will continue to hold down the number of vehicle miles traveled. A down economy, they say, will likely offset the increase in driving that would normally happen when gas prices go down. Over the last three weeks, demand for gasoline has risen slightly according to government data, but it's still down sharply from what it was a year ago. Eugene Griffin recently traded in his old gas-guzzling Oldsmobile for a more efficient Kia Sorrento, even though he saw gas prices were coming down.
Mr. EUGENE GRIFFIN: I've been driving a Kia now for about a week, and all I've burned out was half a tank.
KEITH: So do you feel pretty good about your decision?
Mr. GRIFFIN: Oh yeah, sure, because I don't know when these gas prices are going to shoot back up.
KEITH: And he says he's got plenty of other bills to pay.
Mr. GRIFFIN: You just can't burn gas because, you know, the prices are low now. You know, I got to economize. That's how it goes.
KEITH: Darren O'Neill drives a Honda Ridgeline.
Mr. DARREN O'NEILL: It's a truck, yeah. But it's a smaller engine than, like, a big truck.
KEITH: When gas prices were super high, did you change anything about your lifestyle?
Mr. O'NEILL: I actually started to work from home a little bit more.
KEITH: These days O'Neill says he's driving less. He was recently laid off, so now he's doing consulting work from home. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.
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