Addicted to conserving gas

As prices spiked at the pump, Ruben Glover became obsessed with conserving gas and studied up.

Now he accelerates slowly, uses cruise control and even turns off his car at long red lights. He tracks every drop of gas and every penny using a special online calculator.

With prices heading south again, Glover says he has no plans to change back. Conserving has become a way of life, not just a money-saver.

“It has transferred to other aspects of my life. I don't leave the TV on or the DVD spinning. It makes no sense to waste,” said Glover, a recent graduate who works as a Wachovia database manager. “I definitely get a charge out of saving.”

As the price of gas marched steadily upward the past two years, it has dramatically changed businesses, politics and how people choose to live.

Research suggests the persistently high prices may have ushered in a new lasting era of personal conservation.

More commuters have become used to riding mass transit, driving smaller cars and riding scooters. They're moving closer to where they work and telecommuting as four-day work weeks become common and more employees carpool.

Many are not going to switch to their old ways, even if gas prices continue to fall, the research shows.

The average price for a gallon of regular in the Charlotte area increased steadily from $2.78 a year ago to a peak of $4.07 on July 17.

Since then, however, it has fallen more than 6 percent to below the $4 mark. Today saw another decline of almost a penny. AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Carol Gifford said the agency was predicting a continued slide of about a penny a day through Labor Day and beyond.

The high prices prompted some life changes for consumers that are permanent in nature and not easily reversed.

The prices rose so consistently over such a long period some drivers bought new homes closer to work and spent thousands on smaller fuel efficient cars and scooters, said Kim McLynn, spokeswoman for The NPD Group, a market research company that recently surveyed 43,000 drivers about gas prices and their driving habits.

“Once they've made those changes, they're not likely to switch back because gas prices have gone down,” she said of the survey results. “We've been through ups and downs before with rising gas prices, and people have adjusted. But these long-term changes they've made are unique to this two-year time frame.”

Read tomorrow's Observer for more details on this story.