High-priced Gasoline Could Sway Texans to Rethink Transportation

Texas drivers have become all-too-used to the wild swings in gasoline and diesel prices and have had little choice but to adjust to more expensive fill-ups. Whether prices hit $4 or more in 2012 is anyone’s guess, but if the past few years can tell us anything, drivers should expect higher fuel prices at some point, according to some proponents of alternative transportation attending the 2012 Texas Transportation Forum.

 “There are going to be benefits to higher gas prices,” says Robin Stallings, executive director of advocacy organization Bike Texas. “People will choose to use transit and make different decisions about how they live.”

He says that Texas needs to look to the future needs by tackling congestion and increasing demands on the road network by improving the infrastructure to safely accommodate all users, including individual cars, mass transit and bicycles.

Population density in Texas’ metropolitan areas is continuing to increase — as is congestion. Coupled with increased vehicle operating costs, the potential to separate some Texans from their cars could become a reality.

“It’s not like the economy is doing so well that everyone can absorb additional transportation costs,” says Sean O’Sullivan, managing director of Avego, a company that is pioneering real-time rideshare technology, as well as ticketing and scheduling systems to modernize and ensure efficient operation of mass transit systems.

“If you have your car you have the ultimate freedom and flexibility,” he says. “But it also weighs you down, forcing you to take your car everywhere at great expense. Right now, the average cost for the average person who drives a car is $700 per month.

“There is a [price] point where there is absolutely no option … where most Americans can’t afford to drive to work because they don’t make enough from their work to pay for even the transportation costs,” O’Sullivan says. “That can’t be allowed to happen. Some place between $3 per gallon and $8 per gallon there is a huge amount of behavioral change that will happen.”

Avego operates globally from offices in the U.S., Ireland and China and has developed smartphone technology to connect potential passengers who pay a fee through the company to drivers who give them a ride. Houston is among the cities where Avego is piloting the program.

“It’s still an experimental travel network. But what we’re finding is that there are communities that actively love the product,” he says. “The difficult thing is building critical mass, when the option really becomes viable for most people who would travel that route most of the time. You can’t go from zero to an instantly reliable service for a metropolitan area.”

Watch Sean O’Sullivan’s panel discussion with Ford’s Steve Kenner and Airbiquity’s Leo McCloskey at the 2012 Texas Transportation Forum.