Gas prices won’t stall commuters

Soaring gas prices are hitting urban commuters hard, but a significant percentage of Bay Area drivers said costs would have to pass $5 per galloon before they would consider alternatives such as public transportation.

San Francisco resident Jon Boutelle, who makes a daily commute in his Toyota hybrid from the Mission district to his job in South of Market, said gas prices would probably have to hit $6 before he considered taking his bike to work.

“My commute is very short and I’m a little bit lazy,” said Boutelle, who paid $4.59 per gallon Thursday at the Shell station on 598 Bryant St. “If I was working in the South Bay things would probably be a little different.”

Nationally, $4.50 is the breaking point, according to a survey of 4,000 urban commuters that focused on 10 of American’s largest metropolitan areas.

“Whereas some cities, like Dallas, were very price-sensitive,” said Janet Caldow, director of IBM’s Institute for Electronic Government, which conducted the study. “The lesson we learned from San Francisco was, ‘If the national average hits $5, we’re still not ready for alternatives.’”

The study asked motorists questions about traffic congestion, travel-related stress levels, and gas prices as a way to determine which metropolitan area had the most “painful” commute experience.

Based on those factors, the Bay Area ranked fifth in “commuter pain,” tied with Chicago and trailing Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami and Dallas. Bay Area commuters were ranked as the least likely to change their transportation practices based on gas prices.

Nearly 82 percent of the 260 Bay Area drivers polled said they were willing to pay $4 a gallon to commute to work. Nationally, that percentage was smaller, 68.8 percent. The average cost of gas nationwide is $3.95 per gallon; in San Francisco, the average jumped to $4.20, according to the American Automobile Association.

John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s regional planning organization, said area drivers’ willingness to pay high gas prices doesn’t tell the whole commuting story.

“There a lot of things working together here,” Goodwin said. “Incomes are higher here than other metro areas and we’re used to paying more for gas prices.”

Goodwin said carpooling traffic was up 5.2 percent on the Bay Bridge since last year — evidence that area commuters are beginning to change their travel habits.

Among the study’s other findings, a slightly higher percentage of Bay Area drivers reported feeling increased anger as a result of traffic — 29.2 percent compared with 28 percent nationwide — but not as sizeable of a portion as Los Angeles, where 36 percent are feeling boosts of road rage.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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