Dr. Daron Shaw of the University of Texas at Austin says the Texas Lyceum survey is clear evidence that Texas motorists are already changing their own status quo because of gasoline prices. Majorities are canceling or shrinking their vacation plans, buying or thinking of buying fuel efficient cars, driving less, and changing their driving habits with carpooling and public transportation. Shaw says all this just shows how important our cars are in our lives.
“We drive places, it’s a big state. You know we commute, we move around, and when you increase the cost of that significantly, it just has this cascading effect on all these other personal decisions.”
Shaw says people can’t do anything about gas prices, but they can do something about how the prices affect them. In addition to buying less expensive ways to get around, many are moving to homes closer to their jobs, or getting jobs closer to where they live. He says people are willing to adapt, but they’re frustrated that no one seems to be doing anything about the problem.
“Because if you spend a couple of hours in traffic every day in Houston or in Dallas, or even in Austin, the notion that you would do that and pay huge amounts of money, large portions of your net income, to finance that sitting around in traffic, that’s something that seems to be a double whammy and people are looking for leadership on it.”
People want leadership but they’re not waiting for it. Shaw thinks if and when prices come down, it probably won’t make much difference because most people will have adapted to the higher prices.
“Ultimately I do think they could come down significantly as alternative fuels, whether it’s nuclear, or wind, or solar, or bio-ethanol or whatever come on line, but I think we’re gonna long since have adjusted our patterns and/or our expectations before that kind of reduction happens.”
Shaw says higher gas prices are rippling throughout the economy. Airlines are in a crisis and everything that’s shipped in trucks costs more. Many places that depend on tourism and companies that support tourism may not survive in the world of five, six and seven dollar a gallon gasoline. But, even with the gloomy outlook, Shaw says he’s optimistic.
“I do think that Americans are flexible, they are adaptable. There’s a brief period of complaint and then everybody looks for a solution. But then there’s also an expectation, often expressed at the ballot box, that public officials are going to address these things, that they’re going to be responsive. And if not we’ll find somebody who is.”
Shaw says high fuel prices are forcing us to change the way we do things, whether we like it or not, and he thinks politicians who don’t make solving this problem a very high priority do so at their own peril.
Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.