gas prices

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

An increasing number of Americans believe the current gasoline prices, which range from $1.93 to $3.29 per gallon nationally, are relatively reasonable, according to the UT Energy Poll released Wednesday. 

In September 2014, 90 percent of Americans believed gasoline prices were too high, but now that number has dropped to 66 percent.

“There’s been such a deep decline in the price,” said Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of the UT Energy Poll. “ I’m paying as much now to fill up my own car as I did in the late 1990s. I think a lot of people are noticing a big difference in how much it costs to travel.”

The sharp decline in oil prices this past year can be attributed to a lack of demand from consumers across the world, according to Carey King, assistant director of the UT Energy Institute.

“Oil production in North America has increased relatively quickly,” King said. “It has increased faster than the demand for gasoline. There’s more oil than people are prepared to consume.”

But people shouldn’t get used to these low prices, King said. 

“[These prices] will be around for six months to a year, at most,” King said.

However, high gas prices have their own set of advantages. Kirshenbaum said that when the price increases, the public usually takes a greater interest in energy conservation.

“When gas prices were very high, we saw a lot more concerns over what people were paying — maybe some more interest in the adoption of renewable technologies or driving hybrid cars,” Kirshenbaum said.

When gas prices decline, number of large vehicles purchased goes up, said Michelle Foss, chief energy economist for the Jackson School of Geosciences.

“When gasoline prices are lower, people tend to use more,” Foss said. “In our country, people have started buying SUVs and trucks again. If the cars people buy are more fuel efficient, which they are, then less gasoline will get used than before.”

The findings in the poll don’t have much significance, according to Foss, because any small price fluctuation in the oil industry has a considerable effect on the U.S.

“We have not had big changes,” Foss said. “Oil prices stabilized a bit. In the U.S., any change in oil price, high or low, gets translated directly to the pump. This is especially true in Texas.”

An increase in gas prices could be behind the steady rise of UT students that have used Capital Metro campus shuttles and mainline buses during the past six months, Cap Metro official said.

UT’s Parking and Transportation Services does not yet have passenger counts for campus shuttle use in February and March, but student ridership is expected to be higher than normal, said Blanca Juarez, alternative transportation manager at PTS. She said it is most likely because of rises in gas prices, among other factors.

According to AAA Texas’ daily fuel gage report, regular gas prices in the Austin-San Marcos area hit an average of $3.60 Thursday, compared to $3.47 one week ago. This week last year, gas prices were $.90 lower, according to the report.

“Students would react this way because by riding the bus fare-free, they’re able to save money, free up time from driving for other things and avoid the hassles of driving during rush hour,” Juarez said. “As gas prices continue to rise, we will see even more students board the buses to save some money.”

According to Capital Metro statistics, students boarded shuttles 2,323,949 times and mainline buses 1,019,958 times between October 2009 and February 2010. From October 2010 to February 2011, students boarded shuttles 2,410,219 times and mainline buses 1,088,744 times.

UT student ridership has increased by 3.71 percent on shuttles around campus and 6.74 percent on mainline buses in the past six months, according to the statistics. Capital Metro spokeswoman Misty Whited also attributed the increase in ridership to more expensive gas prices, among other issues.

“Contributing factors could be so many different things, we would really have to do a survey to see specifics,” Whited said. “When gas prices go up, ridership in general goes up. That’s definitely a part of it.”

Other reasons, such as the semester coming to a close and more students traveling to and from campus for final exam study sessions and deadlines for class projects, may also contribute to the rise in usage of Capital Metro, Whited said. Chemical engineering sophomore Elizabeth Orth said that she is more likely to choose the bus because her car is parked far away.

“I don’t want to walk to my car,” she said. “I’m more likely to take the bus because of convenience as opposed to any monetary reasons associated with driving myself.”