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High Gas Prices - Which Cities are Hit the Hardest?

September 29, 2005

Gas prices recently hit an all-time high, and they show no sign of coming down. Today the average U.S. family with two drivers pays $1,500 more annually for gas than it did just 12 months ago. This new study by Sperling's BestPlaces examines which U.S. cities are most affected by the fuel crunch.

Hardest Hit Cities

  1. Birmingham, AL ($2,420)
  2. Nashville-Davidson, TN ($2,359)
  3. Atlanta, GA ($2,326)
  4. Raleigh-Durham, NC ($2,318)
  5. Washington, DC-VA-MD ($2,255)
  6. Orlando, FL ($2,146)
  7. Charlotte, NC-SC ($2,074)
  8. Richmond, VA ($2,045)
  9. Indianapolis, IN ($2,023)
  10. Albany-Schenectady, NY ($1,944)

Least Impacted Cities

  1. Anchorage, AK ($609)
  2. Salem, OR ($732)
  3. Eugene, OR ($814)
  4. Laredo, TX ($898)
  5. Brownsville, TX ($916)
  6. Cleveland, OH ($984)
  7. Las Vegas, NV ($1,048)
  8. Bakersfield, CA ($1,060)
  9. Portland, OR ($1,088)
  10. Spokane, WA ($1,137)

Complete list

 

(Note: New Orleans was excluded from the study due to the disruption caused by Hurricane Katrina. Prior to the devastating storm, New Orleans residents had one of the lowest daily peak vehicle miles per capita and would have been included as one of the ten cities least impacted by rising gas prices.)

The Southern metro area of Birmingham has been hit the hardest, as its two-driver households spend $2,420 more per year on fuel than they did last year. Two-driver households in Nashville and Atlanta find their gas expenditures over $2,300 higher this year.

On the other end of the scale, two-driver households in Anchorage are paying only $609 more for gas than they were a year ago.

Other interesting findings of the study include:

  • The average 2-driver household now spends $4,132 on gas yearly. Last year, this figure was $2,620.
  • Birmingham drivers spend the most money annually on gas--at current prices, the average 2-driver household there spends $6,003 on gas every year. 2-driver households in Anchorage spend the least on gas--$2,351 a year.
  • Drivers in Atlanta consume the most gas--about 3.4 gallons a day for a 2-driver household. Drivers in Brownsville, TX consume the least--1.35 gallons a day. (also 2-driver household)
  • Washington, D.C. has seen the greatest increase in gas prices in the last year. Their drivers pay $1.38 more per gallon than they did a year ago.
  • Anchorage showed the smallest increase in gas prices ($0.69/gallon).
  • Drivers in the Los Angeles area waste over half a gallon of gas a day due to traffic congestion. Drivers in Anchorage and Brownsville waste virtually none.
  • U.S. drivers travel an average of 43.5 miles a day. Residents of Birmingham drive the most (65.2 miles/day) while people in Brownsville drive the fewest (28.2 miles/day).

Birmingham residents may have the most difficulty absorbing the increased fuel expenses-- the extra they are paying for gas is nearly six percent of their median household income, after taxes. The increase for Orlando and Nashville residents also tops 5 percent of their net income. Rising gas prices are less of a burden in Anchorage, New Orleans and Salem, OR, where the increased cost represents less than two percent of families' median income.

Residents of Southern and Midwestern cities drive significantly more miles than their counterparts in the Northeast and West. As a result, drivers in these regions consume more gallons of fuel and end up spending more money on gas overall.

Experts have suggested that the flatter landscape of the South and Midwest has resulted in cities that are relatively spread-out. This has increased drivers' commute distances, which has led to higher gas consumption. This higher gas consumption results in a greater net annual gas expense for residents of these cities.

This study involves many measures of gas usage and economy, such as the average number of miles drivers travel in each city and the average number of gallons each driver uses and wastes in traffic congestion each day. In order to provide a real-world frame of reference for consumers, Sperling's BestPlaces created a single measure--that is, how much more per year are Americans paying for their gasoline as compared to one year ago.

 

Methodology

Average miles driven per day per peak traveler (1) is determined by dividing total roadway system daily vehicle miles (2) by the number of peak period travelers (3). Average gallons of gas used per peak traveler (4) is determined by dividing (1) by the 2005 average fuel economy for all vehicles (5) and adding the average daily wasted fuel (6). Money spent on gas per driver is calculated by multiplying (4) by the city's peak gas price (7) or the gas price one year ago (8).

Data Sources

2005 Urban Mobility Study, Texas Transportation Institute,
American Automobile Association (AAA) Fuel Gauge Report,
2005 Fuel Economy data, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
2004 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau,