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How much would you pay for gas?

Illustration by Arthur JonesThe true cost of gasoline is more than we pay at the pump.

Even though gas prices have fallen by a few cents in recent weeks, the pain at the pump is still acute as we approach the July 4 holiday. When it comes to gas, how much is too much to pay?

Recently, we published an animated video about the hidden costs of gasoline. We explained that the environmental cost of pollution, and the health cost of asthma from that pollution, aren't included in the price we pay at the pump.

The video explored some of those costs to society, noting a study [PDF] that puts the true cost of gasoline at up to $15 per gallon. The video has  been traveling around the Web and has received tens of thousands of views on YouTube and hundreds of comments on The Huffington Post.

To further open the lines of communication with our readers, we asked a handful of questions through the Public Insight Network, which solicits input from people across the country. We got 55 responses in two weeks, most of which were from California. But a few readers chimed in from Washington, Colorado, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina and Connecticut.

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When we asked, "How much are you willing to pay for gas?" we expected only a dollar figure. But some opened up and told us why they could pay more for gas.

About 20 percent of respondents said they were willing to pay up to $4 or $5 per gallon, and about 20 percent said they would pay up to $10 per gallon. Three people were willing to pay up to $15 per gallon. 

Edward Walsh of San Francisco said, "I would probably pay that much ($15) but would change my habits considerably, and, when time for a new car, would probably forgo it or buy an all-electric."
 
Christian Rusby, sustainability coordinator for North Seattle Community College, said he would pay much more if it included all of the external costs of driving. "If I were paying $15 per gallon, I would use much less and change my lifestyle to accommodate it."
 
Many people who said they would pay a high price for gas said they would want the extra money to go toward improving public transit and improving the environment and health conditions. Several people insisted the higher price not go toward increased profits for oil companies.
 
For some, the current $4 per gallon affects their daily routine. Many Southern California drivers noted that limited public transportation options prevent them from ditching their cars.
 
Melanie Peters lives in San Diego and explained how the current prices affect her: "I will limit my driving as much as possible but usually I just end up cutting expenses elsewhere (less eating out; no extras at the grocery store, etc)." She can take the trolley to work, but her grocery store and yoga studio aren't accessible by public transit, she said.
 
In Pasadena, Alese Pedro said she switched to public transit in 2008 when gas prices spiked, taking a bus and two trains to work. "Now, I have another job nowhere near a bus or train line. I would love to utilize public transportation but can't."
 
Only a couple of people said they changed their driving habits long ago. Linda Boisvert of San Diego said she began to cut back on driving years ago, when gas crept above the $1 per gallon mark. She started to be concerned about air pollution around that time, too. Kevin Cousineau lives in Ramona, Calif., and said he started to drive less when gas edged toward the $2-per-gallon mark in 2001.
 
Judy Williams in Greensboro, N.C., said she'd like to see a long-term plan to increase gas prices, as long as the tax revenue funds better public transit options. "In my region, I believe that most of us would be willing to use public transportation only if it were more convenient and if it were significantly more economical than driving."
 
In fact, 80 percent of people who responded said they would pay more for gas if they "knew the extra money would be going into protecting the environment and alleviating the effects of pollution on people's health." Although they wouldn't be willing to pay $15 a gallon, 52 percent said they would continue to drive if it reached that price.
 
When asked how their daily commutes would change if they couldn't afford gas, half the respondents said either they would adjust their schedules to use public transit or wouldn't be affected since they already ride a bike, use public transit or don't commute.
 
But for the other half of people who responded, it would create significant or major changes in their lives: Some said it would double or quadruple commute times, in one case up to two hours one way. Penny Jennings of Santa Monica said, "I have asthma, so commuting on the dirty buses we have in Los Angeles would probably hurt my health more than driving."
 
For others, not being able to drive would necessitate changing jobs or moving to another city. That idea sounds pretty bleak to M Walker, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla.
 
"I would most likely have to quit my current job and look for another job closer to home in a city with an unemployment rate of nearly 12 percent. Considering that I was out of work for almost two years before finding my current job in this city, that is not a pleasant prospect."
 
Check out this map of everyone who responded to our PIN query:


View PIN responses in a larger map

Filed under: Environment, Daily Report

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