During the last spike in gas prices that started four years ago, drivers told us they changed their wasteful ways. They joined carpools, cut down on daily travel, made every gallon count.
Then gas prices fell. And over the past four years, stuff happened in their lives. Some of our gas misers got sick. They got married. They got unemployed. They lost their carpool pals. A lot changed for them.
This week, as gas prices climbed toward $3.50 a gallon, we got back in touch. We thought we'd find a lot of backsliding. But we did not. They told us one thing has not changed. When gas hit $3.50 a gallon in 2007, they got wise. They have stayed wise.
The gospel of fuel conservation seems to have stuck.
That falls in line with national trends. Commuters are better prepared this time for a gas price spike. Sales of super SUVs — the Tahoes, Suburbans and Armadas — never recovered. Energy analysts predict a 20 percent drop in fuel consumption over the next two decades.
The Great Recession had a lot to do with it. So did a change in strategy among carmakers. Crossovers and hybrids became popular. The Cash for Clunkers program got 700,000 gas guzzlers off the road.
In 2008, Tom Castriota predicted the death of the monster SUV at his Castriota Chevrolet dealership in Hudson. His predictions have come true. His No. 1 SUV is now the Equinox crossover, which gets 32 miles per gallon on the highway.
Many drivers, he says, have hung on to 10-year-old cars through the recession. They're buying now out of necessity — their old buggies have worn out. But they're driving out of dealerships in new cars and SUVs with superior technology.
Castriota said 250 people turned out on a Saturday to check out the first electric-powered Chevy Volt on his lot.
Motorists may not like the return of high pump prices, but, Castriota says, "they're in much better shape."
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Four years ago, Ann Jeffrey carpooled with Sharon Zegalia from Sun City Center to their jobs at Tampa General Hospital. But Zegalia retired. Jeffrey, whose last name was Hartman four years ago (she has remarried), checks the bulletin board at Tampa General where workers post carpool offers, but she hasn't found a replacement.
So she's making the 60-mile round-trip commute alone. But she has remained careful about combining shopping trips and keeping her mileage down.
She also traded in her PT Cruiser on a new Hyundai Santa Fe that gets 27 highway miles to the gallon, a slight improvement over the Cruiser.
She likes saving gas, but confesses mileage wasn't what made her pick the Santa Fe.
"It was the heated seats."
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Four years ago, Wade Pitzer shared a ride from his home in Land O'Lakes to his job at Raymond James in St. Petersburg with six other people. They made the 36-mile trek in a Chevy Tahoe.
Carpools are hard to keep together — people move on, as did the folks riding with Pitzer. Judy Polatschek, Pitzer's fellow traveler from Hudson, left the carpool when she lost her job. Then she got married. But she kept trying to save gas. She bought a Toyota Yaris that gets 36 miles per gallon.
Pitzer now carpools with another co-worker in a Honda Civic. They've driven many miles, trying to learn Spanish together from CDs.
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Vincent Oliverio of Holiday feels guilty. He confesses to backsliding. By that he means he temporarily forgot about combining shopping errands the way he swore he'd do in 2007.
"I was kind of foolish," he says.
Now he's got religion again.
He has a new Camry. It gets 34 miles a gallon and he makes sure it takes him to all his errands on one trip.
"Thank God," he says, "I'm on track."
John Barry can be reached at (727) 892-2258 or [email protected]