Gridlock Guy: Cheap gas will mean more traffic


Gridlock Guy: Cheap gas will mean more traffic

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Ben Gray
Cars jockey for position while trying to fill up on cheap gas at the Kroger on Moreland Avenue on Friday afternoon January 23, 2015. BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM

As we kick off the new year, metro Atlanta commuters are enjoying remarkably low gas prices. According to the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in Atlanta is $1.88. I’ve heard from people who have seen gas as low as $1.65 per gallon.

The cheap gasoline in Georgia and across the country (national gas prices average just north of two dollars per gallon) have started to alter our driving habits. More people are starting to buy larger vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks because the cost to fill-up the tanks of the less efficient vehicles has dropped dramatically. The sales of electric, hybrid and more fuel efficient vehicles have suffered.

The downside of the less expensive gasoline for metro commuters might be worse traffic. Sub two-dollar gas prices mean drivers are more likely to hit the roads, solo, then they are when gas prices are higher.

From personal experience I can tell you that when gas prices were over $4 a gallon in 2008, I made a conscious effort to drive less. I would plan my driving very carefully. I would combine trips. I would ride share. I would think twice about leaving the house and getting behind the wheel.

Now, six years later, with petrol prices half of what they were, I don’t take such precautions. Between 2008 and the middle of 2014, it would pain me to fill up my tank. I dreaded going to the gas station knowing I would get sticker shock seeing how much it would cost to fill up my ride.

Now? I love going to get gas. Every time I see the price go down by a few pennies I get a smile on my face. I don’t think I’m alone in doing this and traffic patterns back me up. The lower the price of gas, the worse traffic gets.

So, how long can we expect to see these low gas prices? Probably for quite awhile.

The price of barrel of crude oil has dropped to $33. That same barrel cost over $100 a barrel 10 years ago. The price has dropped because supply has outpaced demand. Oil production in the United States has doubled over the last six years. With more American oil on the market the dependency on foreign oil has dropped.

Despite the extra American and Canadian oil in the market, OPEC nations have not decreased their production. The rise of alternative fuel vehicles in Europe has also lessened the Continent’s demand for gas.

We can soon expect Iran to become a major factor in the oil world as well. The recent nuclear deal with Iran should lead to them exporting a lot of oil, most likely to Russia and China. More oil in the marketplace will again push prices down worldwide.

That’s great news for our wallets here in metro Atlanta, but probably not good news for the traffic we will encounter has we drive around enjoying our cheap gas.

Gridlock updates Mark Arum’s column appears Mondays. Listen to his traffic reports daily on News 95.5 and AM750 WSB, and see him each morning on Channel 2 Action News. Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markarum.

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