The Price of GasThe recent hike in gas prices has been hitting household budgets hard. It’s especially painful when we think that just a bit more than 2 years ago the price of oil actually went negative, with producers paying to have their oil taken off their hands. The causes of this recent spike in prices were quite unpredictable, as a major driving factor is the war in Ukraine and the boycotting of Russian oil, which has in turn driven up the price of oil from alternative sources.
Still, this isn’t the first time we’ve been hit with sky-high gas prices. In the past, the outcome was a transition to smaller cars. Comparing the gigantic boats-on-wheels of the early 70s to an 80s k-car shows us the impacts of the spike in oil prices during the 1970s. And the popularity of the Toyota Echo of the late 2000s was largely caused by the sharp increases in gas prices heading into the financial crisis.
Unlike then, however, we now have an alternative to traditional gas vehicles - electric cars. It will be interesting to see how current gas prices impact the popularity of electric vehicles. Quebecers in particular will have a major incentive to switch up, as electricity is quite cheap here compared to other provinces, at about half the cost of Ontario.
Those who choose to stick with traditional vehicles will likely downsize, as they have in the past. Larger vehicles certainly have their advantages, especially during Canadian winters. Yet they also present many problems. Heavier cars wear out roads much faster, making a longstanding problem in Quebec even worse. Taking a drive down Lucerne Boulevard shows you the impacts of our heavier SUVs and pick-ups. Also, something less noticed is that larger vehicles create a dependency in areas outside of cities, as housing developments can be built with access roads that wouldn’t be practical for smaller cars, particularly during the winter. Owners are then stuck with needing a large vehicle even when the price at the pump is breaking their budgets. Larger cars also contribute to more traffic congestion as they take up more space.
Higher prices will make many of us re-evaluate whether we really need larger vehicles. Yet even for those who do have such a need, large pick-up trucks and SUVs are increasingly available in electric options, allowing everyone at least some choice.
In the end, there are also the environmental impacts of vehicles. Regardless of the importance that any one person puts on reducing emissions, our governments have built their climate strategies on making fossil fuels more expensive so that people use less of them. This was generally done with a carbon tax. Of course, we didn’t expect the cost of gas to rise so quickly. Yet in the end it will push us towards reducing our carbon footprints as gas weighs more heavily on our budgets. We’re repeating an experience that our society has lived through several times already, but this time with more options at our disposal. It’ll be interesting to see exactly how our habits adapt.