April 11, 2011 — -- Gas prices are now the highest they have ever been during the month of April and at its fourteenth highest nominal price according to data from the Energy Department going back to 1990. The average gas price is $3.79 per gallon of regular, according to the Energy Department's weekly figures released today, an increase of 11 cents from last week and 93 cents from a year ago.
As the average price of gasoline edges closer to $4 a gallon -- with at least one gas station in Orlando at $5.59 a gallon, according to GasBuddy.com -- have drivers finally reached the point when they will switch to smaller cars or forego driving altogether?
Drivers can be especially resistant to changing their behavior, but Mantill Williams, spokesperson for the American Public Transportation Authority, said pump prices have taken a serious toll on wallets.
"The tipping point probably has moved somewhat over time," Williams said. "As gas prices rise, consumers get accustomed to it. As you start to get close to $3.50 and toward $4, that's the point when people start to see there's a cheaper way to get around."
Gas and oil prices have been on the rise, in part, because of turmoil in oil-producing regions of the Middle East, like Libya. The price of oil settled at $109.92 in New York today and will likely continue to increase.
The average price of gasoline has increased 19 cents over the past three weeks and is now $3.76, according to the Lundberg Survey of fuel prices. Tucson, Ariz., had the country's lowest average price for gas at $3.41 while San Francisco had the highest at $4.13, according to the Associated Press.
Drivers may have to brace themselves for the worst this summer. The Energy Department said good weather and vacation driving cause gasoline demand to average about five percent higher during the summer than during the rest of the year. If that rule of thumb holds true this year, a five percent increase would easily lead to a price of $3.98.
Williams shared the example of commuters in Durham, N.C., as evidence that for those who tire of high gas prices, public transportation is the quickest way to cut costs.
In February, public transportation ridership in Durham increased 21.8 percent, according to the Durham Area Transit Authority. In January, it increased 14.8 percent.
In Pompano Beach, Fla., public transportation ridership increased 10.6 percent in February and 6 percent in January, according to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
If regular gas prices reach $4 a gallon across the country, an additional 670 million passenger trips via public transportation could be expected, according to a report by the American Public Transportation Authority last month. That would result in more than 10.8 billion trips per year. If gas prices reach $5 a gallon, the report estimates an additional 1.5 billion passenger trips.
Gas Prices Hit $3.79 for Regular; Will People Drive Less?
Charles Dewhurst, national energy practice leader at BDO, said a gas price "tipping point" that would change drivers' behavior is "fluid."
"We get used to these high prices, but for most people I've spoken to, $5 a gallon is that kind of tipping point where people would look to avoid trips, switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles, hybrid or plug in vehicles," Dewhurst said.
Consumer Reports' April issue featured the Best and Worst Cars in 2011, saying, "Small cars and family sedans tend to provide the most value for the money."
The Honda Fit was the best value in the small car category, at $16,000. It's not surprising that one of the Fit's selling points is fuel efficiency, at 33 miles per gallon. The average MPG of passenger cars in 2010 was 27.5, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.