Now that the Bay Area's gas prices are the highest in the nation, you might think that more people are choosing to take public transportation. But that's not the case, at least not yet.
Gas in San Francisco is now selling for an average of $4.22 a gallon, according to SanFranGasPrices.com. In San Jose, a gallon costs an average of $4.19, according to SanJoseGasPrices.com. That’s compared to a national average of $3.76.
Gas is averaging over $4 a gallon in most of California, according to Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, which operates both sites. In the past three months, prices have jumped 70 cents.
The unrest in Libya, which supplies two million barrels of crude oil per day, approximately 2.5 percent of the world’s global oil supply, may be a factor in this latest price spike, according to DeHaan.
But even when the Middle East is relatively calm, the state's gas prices tend to be higher than most areas of the country. Gas taxes in California are also among the highest in the nation, accounting for 67.4 cents of the prices of every gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute. And the state has tougher air quality standards. “The type of gasoline that’s required to meet those standards is more difficult to make, and more expensive, and that costs is passed on to motorists,” DeHaan said.
Bay Area drivers may complain about the cost of gas, but they are not abandoning their cars.
“We have not seen a decline in bridge traffic attributable to the rise in gas prices,” said John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Toll Authority. Toll-bridges in the Bay Area have seen a steady decline in traffic since 2004, dropping 1 to 2 percent each year, the result, Goodwin says, of higher tolls, the economic downturn and construction on the approach to the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, as well as gas prices.
Traffic over those bridges is still declining, but not at the rate that it had been in recent years, which he attributes to the slight improvements in the Bay Area economy.
“The steep increase in gas prices that began in the late fall of 2010 has not yet been born out by the toll numbers,” Goodwin said.
BART saw ridership decline for 17 straight months in 2009 and 2010, which Jim Allison, BART blames on the economy. But in the first few months of this year, ridership has been up, which he attributes to a stronger local economy.
Still, gas prices may be playing some role: “When gas goes over $4 a gallon, I’m sure that is a tipping point for some people.”
That $4 figure is making some drivers consider more fuel-efficient cars. Toyota of Berkeley has seen an increase in interest and sales of Priuses since February, according to salesman Amr Basuony, who says that some customers have sighted gas prices as a reason to go hybrid.
But the earthquake and tsunami in Japan may soon make that more difficult. Basuony anticipates prices rising due to shortages to come within two to three weeks.