- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rising oil prices, widespread congestion and long commutes propelled travel costs in the Washington region to a third-place ranking among the nation’s major metro areas, according to a survey by Forbes magazine.

The average D.C. commuter pays $6.32 per day in gas costs, according to the Forbes survey, which was conducted earlier this month.

“It is really bad for me because I work for a nonprofit agency and have to drive sometimes 30 miles per day,” Rita Smith said yesterday as she fueled up at the Lowest Price gas station on New York Avenue Northeast, where a gallon of regular gas cost $3.73.

“Once it gets to be $4 dollars a gallon, I might have to quit my job. We only get reimbursed 50 cents per mile, and that is just not enough,” she said.

“It’s really getting rough out there,” said Mrs. Smith.

Only commuters in Atlanta, at $6.62 per day, and Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., at $7.61, pay more than D.C.’s. As a result, some Washingtonians are using mass transit in an effort to avoid the costly commute and frustrating traffic jams.

“I take the Metro much more often,” said Kevin Steve, a D.C. resident who had taken the Metro to Union Station rather than drive. “I think as costs go up, people are just going to find that Metro is much more accessible.”

For others, though, public transportation is simply not an option.

“I can’t take the Metro because of all the places I have to go for my job,” said Mrs. Smith.

“I think public transportation just does not go out far enough to work for everybody,” noted Feyseh-Ben Hammouda, a Northern Virginia limousine driver who was filling his tank at the Lowest Price gas station and has been feeling the pain of higher gas prices.

One of the largest contributors to high costs of travel is the notorious D.C. congestion that can extend what should be a 15- to 20-minute trip to an hour, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. With more and more travel time stuck in traffic, a significant amount of the gasoline being used is while the car isn’t even moving.

“We waste around 43 gallons per consumer per year being stuck in traffic in this area,” according to John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “It is one of the most expensive ways we waste gas.”

The rising costs of travel also affects the profits of local travel-based businesses, such as limousine services and cab drivers.

“Of course it affects us a lot,” said Getu Shiferaw, a native of Ethiopia that has been driving his cab in the District for the past three years.

Mr. Shiferaw said he puts about $70 worth of gasoline in his taxi each week.

“With the way the economy is, there are fewer conventions here and fewer tourists. The rising gas prices and new meters have made it much more expensive,” said Mr. Shiferaw, referring to the recent decision by the District to require cabs to operate under a meter system rather than by zone.

“If you want to cut fuel costs, avoid idling in traffic,” said Mr. Townsend. “Avoid peak hours or use flex hours to avoid congestions. That could save you a lot of money.”

The Forbes survey examined fuel costs, congestion, distance of commute and use of mass transit to determine the amount of money local commuters pay in gas each day. The Forbes survey bases its number on the gasoline costs from May 1, while the average price for a gallon of gas in the D.C. area has risen by approximately 20 cents since then, so commuting costs are likely even more expensive.

Based solely on more-recent gas prices, local motorists spend closer to $7 per day, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

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