According to a study rolled out this past week by the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, per-capita gasoline consumption is actually going down in the Northwest, as it continues to rise slightly in the rest of the country.
Gasoline use in the Northwest states, considered asWashington, Oregon, and Idaho, fell significantly over the past 16 years, from 8.8 gallons per person per week in 1990 down to 7.9 in 2006. Overall, in the U.S., per capita consumption remains at about 8.9 gallons. Individual states ranged from Wyoming, at 11.8, to the District of Columbia, at about 4.1 gallons.
The data is part of the organization's annual Cascadia Scorecard 2007, a broad-ranging study that gauges overall progress relative to the U.S. as a whole, with aspects assessing energy use, economic security, pollution, lifespan, and sprawl. The study was meant to be alternative to conventional economic indicators like GDP, which has been on an upward trend for the region in recent years.
Per-person gasoline use in Northwest states hasn't been this low since 1967, according to the report.
The regional disparity relative to the U.S. overall is not due to a single reason, said Clark Williams-Derry, the group's research director. Fuel prices along the West Coast have been among the highest in the country in recent years, which has imposed more economic pressure on drivers than elsewhere; vehicle mileage trends are on the decline in the region as a whole; transit use has risen tremendously in the cities (since 1999, 11 percent in Seattle and 25 percent in Portland) and in general, the Northwest has been one of the leading markets, again per capita, in hybrid sales.
" Portland and Seattle are doing a good job controlling low-density sprawl. These efforts may be at least partially responsible for the trend, too," said Williams-Derry.
Pump prices have an obvious influence, added Williams-Derry. As population has continued to rise in the region, total gasoline consumption has flattened out since 1999, the year when gas prices were at their last inflation-adjusted low. Average yearly pump prices have risen sharply since.
The group found a similar trend in British Columbia relative to the rest of Canada . BC's per-capita consumption has stayed level as consumption has risen slightly overall in Canada . Overall, Canadian gasoline consumption averages about 6.0 gallons per person per week nationally, while the U.S. uses 8.6 gallons on average.
If gasoline prices stay high nationwide, Williams-Derry predicts, U.S. per-capita use may be reaching a turning point. "But there are still parts of the country, including areas of the Deep South, where per-capita income is rising far faster than the rest of the country…and they're definitely driving more than they used to," he said.