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Update: New Yorkers are Still Driving Like Crazy

how streetsblog covered gas sales
How Streetsblog has covered this story.

Gas prices? Schmas prices!

New York State residents stared into the sclerotic heart of high gas prices and drove right back to the pumps like they always did, according to the latest stats from the state Department of Finance.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but even as gas prices hit their peak in May, New Yorkers burned up more fuel than they had two months earlier, which itself reflected more fuel burned than the previous March.

The May gas tax revenue of $37.6 million reflects more than 235 million gallons of fuel purchased (and likely burned) in New York State in just that one month, up from 221.6 million gallons bought and burned in March, as Streetsblog previously reported.

The chart below shows how we're going in the wrong direction between March and May of this year (one caveat: May fuel use seems to often be above March fuel use): (Note: If this chart doesn't publish correctly on your browser, click here.)

Fuel use is likely on the increase in the Empire State because the state's "holiday" from the 16-cent-a-gallon gas tax  began on June 1 and continues through the end of the calendar year. The elimination of the tax will make it difficult (perhaps impossible) for the public to track gasoline consumption, as the tax revenue is the only reliable way to calculate just how much fuel New Yorkers are burning. Those revenues will drop to zero between now and the end of the year, depriving the state of roughly $250 million in tax revenue.

“The gas tax holiday is an outrageous windfall for oil profiteers from Charles Koch to Vladimir Putin,” Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance recently told Streetsblog, adding that any loss in general fund revenue deprives New Yorkers of essential services.

The increase in driving not only means a commensurate amount of road death and congestion, but also an increase in pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, burning just one gallon of gas emits 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (what the EPA calls “greenhouse gases” today), so in just May 2022 alone, New Yorkers put 4.6 billion pounds of CO2(E) into the air.

It’s daunting to think how much work needs to be done to avoid so much pollution. The EPA calculator says that one month’s worth of emissions from gas burning would require more than 535 wind turbines running for a whole year to eliminate or converting more than 75 million incandescent lightbulbs to LEDs (every month!).

And that doesn’t include diesel fuel use.

The fact that residents of New York State consume so much fuel is not simply a function of the massive cars and trucks they buy, but also the car dependency that has been built into the state's vast non-urban areas. Decades of sprawl planning and disinvestment in transit has made it more difficult to get around without a car — at a cost of our lungs, our bodies and our planet.

And, alas, despite the costs and the hassles, motorists have become so accustomed to getting in the car that they simply prefer it to other options, as Streetsblog has reported.

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