Capitol Alert: Californians driving more, but using less fuel

dwalters@sacbee.comOctober 21, 2013 

In this May 26, 2011, file photo, a motorcyclist rides between lanes as traffic backs up on US highway 101 before the start of the Memorial Day weekend in Mill Valley.

ERIC RISBERG — Associated Press

Over the last three decades - roughly the period since Jerry Brown ended his first governorship - California's population has increased by more than 50 percent and the amount of automotive travel has doubled.

California's 22 million drivers and 27.5 million cars and light trucks rack up more than 300 billion vehicle-miles of travel each year, which works out to an average of about 13,000 miles for each motorist.

Despite the sharp growth in both population and vehicular travel, however, gasoline consumption has increased only fractionally during that period, rising from about 12 billion gallons a year to 15 billion gallons or only about 25 percent more. And a new report from the state Board of Equalization points out that in recent years, consumption has actually been declining.

There was a sharp, 4.1 percent decline in 2008 as recession hit the state since then smaller declines have been recorded, including a drop of of 1.3 percent from 2011 to 2012.

Given the high level of vehicular travel, the years-long leveling off of fuel consumption and more recent declines have been attributed to much-improved mileage in newer cars. In 1983, cars commonly got only 15 miles to the gallon but today, 30 mpg is not uncommon and gasoline-electric hybrids can approach 100 mpg.

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