Isle gas buying rose with prices
Growth in jobs, cars and tourism are cited as contributing to high September purchases
Despite record-high prices recently, Hawaii motorists haven't cut back on buying gasoline.
The only thing that might have changed is when they buy their gasoline.
Drivers bought more gas in September than the monthly average for the six months and the year before the state's gasoline price cap took effect Sept. 1, according to state and county gasoline tax collection data.
Motorists bought more than 42 million gallons of gasoline in September. That is higher than the 39 million-gallon monthly average for the previous six months, and the 37 million-gallon average for the previous 12 months. In September 2004, drivers bought 37 million gallons.
The statewide average price of a gallon of gasoline topped $3 for the first time in September and stayed there through the end of the month.
On Oahu, motorists bought 26 million gallons this September, compared with 25 million gallons in the same month of 2003 -- when tens of thousands of bus riders were forced into cars or other transportation by the bus workers strike.
Karl Kim, University of Hawaii professor of urban and regional planning, is not surprised Hawaii motorists have not reduced their fuel consumption. He said change is going to take time.
"We're still dependent on our cars," Kim said. "People are just waiting for prices to come down."
John Tantlinger, program manager at the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism's Strategic Technology & Industry Development Branch, said most Hawaii motorists cannot reduce their fuel consumption because they do little discretionary driving already.
"Overall demand (for gasoline) is rather inelastic," Tantlinger said.
Kim said, "We're sort of like trapped consumers."
If all Hawaii drivers were like the ones in her family, said state Rep. Hermina Morita, they timed their purchases with the rise and fall of the weekly gasoline price caps.
"They just changed the day that they bought gas," said Morita, chairwoman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.
The Public Utilities Commission sets the wholesale price cap for gasoline the week before it takes effect. Morita said her family members fill their tanks before a price increase is scheduled to take effect, or wait until after the price drops.
Morita and Kim also believe the state's healthy economy could be a factor in September's higher fuel consumption.
A record number of visitors from the mainland arrived in the islands in September, and many drove rental cars.
Hawaii's labor force continues to grow, keeping the state's jobless rate in September the lowest in the nation. More people working means they are probably driving more, Kim said.
Kim also said there are more cars on Hawaii roads, and they are driving less fuel-efficient models, like sport utility vehicles.
At the start of 2003, there were 987,598 passenger cars, trucks and motorcycles registered in the state, according to county vehicle registration data. At the beginning of this year, the number jumped 8.6 percent, to 1,072,211.
Bus ridership on Oahu increased in September and October to the highest level in two years. But it is still lower than the months before the 2003 bus strike.
Oahu Transit Services Inc., which operates TheBus, started several initiatives this year to increase ridership, including a customized trip planner service and extending to community college students the semester-long U-pass.
"I'm pretty sure ridership is going up, at least partially because of the fuel prices," said Roger Morton, OTS senior vice president.
Tantlinger cautions against drawing conclusions based on gasoline consumption data for just one month.
And state Tax Director Kurt Kawafuchi said several factors cause fuel tax collection numbers to vary widely from one month to the next.
"It's not like comparing apples to apples," Kawafuchi said. He recommends looking at six or more months of data to make comparisons.