Sustainable San Diego Blog

Why "Pain at the Pump" is About More than Gas Prices

10 NewsNews media are reporting on how San Diego gas prices are currently among the highest in the country. But that’s not the only reason your transportation costs are rising. Equinox Center’s 2012 Quality of Life Dashboard found that as a San Diego County resident, on average, you’re driving more highways miles per day than residents of any other major region in California, including the state-wide average.

That, of course, means you're burning more gas along the way.

Our region’s so-called “Vehicle Miles Traveled” (VMT)—a key indicator of quality of life—are about 14 highway miles per person per day. That’s higher even than Los Angeles County:

Highway VMT

10 News reported on these findings yesterday.

In fact, a new national index by the Center for Neighborhood Technology shows the cost of housing plus transportation nationally, and reveals that many in San Diego County are putting more than 55% of their annual household income toward housing and transportation combined. What's  more, that study based the price of gas at about $2.26/gallon, nearly half of what it is today. (Want to compare how your own city fares? 10 News published a break-down.) That means less money in your pocket to spend on local goods and services, and that’s bad news for the local economy.

The other reasons our region’s high VMT are a concern are obvious (increasing traffic congestion) and not so obvious: traffic congestion creates greenhouse gas emissions and threatens air quality, which in turn impacts public health.

So what can we do as a region to reduce our Vehicle Miles Traveled? Equinox Center’s 2012 Quality of Life Dashboard provides some possible policy options as well as local “bright spots,” including the City of Imperial Beach’s Bicycle Transportation Plan. The state of California recently authorized "pay as you drive" insurance that rewards customers for driving less through cost savings. This development can have a positive impact on VMT as well.