Skyrocketing Gas Prices: Commuters Turn to Alternatives to Save Money

From slugging to electric cars, gas prices prompt drivers to try alternatives.

ByABC News
April 22, 2011, 1:22 AM

April 22, 2011— -- From coast to coast, in big cities and small towns, gas prices keep going up and up.

President Obama announced Thursday the Justice Department is putting together a team to investigate possible fraud or price manipulation in the oil market.

In Reno, Nev., prices are already averaging more than $4 a gallon - the highest in the state. The price of fuel has risen to a nearly three-year high.

Drivers are not happy and President Obama told a crowd here, the government is going to go after anybody who gouges.

"We're going to make sure that nobody's taking advantage of American consumers for their own short-term gains," Obama said.

Some drivers are even joining forces to help fight those rising prices like in Seattle. Commuters are trying something a little strange called "slugging." It's essentially legal hitchhiking.

They meet up, get a free ride in a stranger's car and the driver gets to speed through traffic by having an extra passenger so they can go in the carpool lane.

Gas prices in Chicago are among the highest in the nation and more drivers are looking for relief here in smaller, fuel efficient cars.

For top seller Hyundai Elantra, sales are up 72 percent over last year.

Pain Doesn't End in the Streets

But there's just no escaping these painful gas prices, even in the air. The airlines say for every penny per gallon fuel goes up, they lose a $175 million a year.

Rising prices are decimating their profits, which means higher ticket prices and added fees for travelers.

A Car that Doesn't Use Gas?

More people are looking to hybrid and fully electric cars.

The all-electric Nissan Leaf won a prestigious award this week. Named "World Car of the Year" at the New York Auto Show, the Leaf has no exhaust pipe, no pollution, no fuel cap door and no ignition key.

After tax incentives, it can cost as little as $20,000 and goes 100 miles on an overnight charge - enough to handle the average American roundtrip commute of 35 miles.

"All of the statistics tell us that it is around 70 to 75 percent of daily journeys are less than 50 miles a day," said Nissan Marketing Chief Brian Carolin. "The range that this car will give you, even if the air conditioner is on or the heater is on, it will easily get you back and forth to work on a charge."

Nissan concedes it's not a car for everyone, but Justin McNaughton, who bought one of the first Leafs to hit the road last December, says it works for him.

"Just takes two seconds at home to operate at night and in the morning it is charged. I go about my day. It is hardly ever below 89 percent charged," said McNaughton. "When I get home, plug it in again and don't think about it."

McNaughton said he's never had a close call and uses it every day, and figures charging adds only about $15 a month to his electric bill or about the cost of 4 gallons of gas.

"I haven't bought gas since December of 2010..I don't even know what the price of gas is!" McNaughton said.

ABC News' David Kerley, Neal Karlinsky, Barbara Pinto, Yunji DeNies and Leezel Tanglao contributed to this report.