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10 Ways to Reduce VMT and Save Money at the Pump


The Sierra Club just released its list of "Ten Ways to Save Money at the Pump." In what's a big improvement for the Sierra Club, most of the suggestions encourage readers to drive less. Why do I say it's a big improvement? The Club's list for "10 Things You Can Do to Curb Global Warming" only mentioned walking, biking and taking transit, under the bullet point entitled "Drive Smart."

Since we're more interested in getting people to drive less than to drive smart, I've worked up some suggested changes to "Ten Ways to Save Money at the Pump." Feel free to add your own changes in the comments section.

1. Drive Smart! When you drive aggressively, you waste gas and put others at risk. Observe the speed limit, avoid rapid acceleration and braking, and maintain a constant speed on the road.

2. Keep Your Car in Shape. A well-tuned car burns less gasoline. So make sure that you get your oil and air filters changed regularly, and that your tires are always properly inflated.

3. Change Your Commute. Sitting in rush hour traffic burns gas and gets you nowhere. If possible, adjust your work schedule so that you avoid rush hour traffic. Even better, and if your employer allows it, think about telecommuting. If you can't telecommute full-time, try for one or two days a week.

4. Use Public Transportation. Look into the public-transportation options in your area, and use them as much as possible.

5. Try to Combine Errands. According to the Department of Energy, several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a longer, multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.

6. Go for a Ride or Walk. Rather than drive your car to the corner store or a friend's house, walk or ride your bike there. Studies show that this approach has the added advantage of reducing your risk of heart disease.

7. Carpool. Carpool or use ride-share programs if you can. This might also enable you to shorten the time of your commute by using High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.

8. Pack Light. According to the Department of Energy, a loaded roof rack on your car can decrease fuel economy by approximately five percent. Also, every 100 pounds you carry in a car reduces a typical car's fuel economy by one to two percent. So, when you go on vacation or a long car trip, put everything you can inside your vehicle, and pack light

9. Think Hybrid. The most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road today are hybrid-electric cars. A hybrid combines an electric motor with a conventional, but cleaner, gasoline-powered engine. Over its lifetime, a 50-mile per gallon hybrid Toyota Prius will use half as much gas, and release half as much global-warming pollution, as a 23-mpg Pontiac Grand Prix.

10. Consider Sharing. Rather than buy a new car, sign up for membership with a car-sharing program such as Flexcar or Zipcar. These programs allow you to reserve and drive cars by the hour -- and they cover the cost of the vehicle, insurance, gas, parking, and maintenance.

Bonus: Write Your Leaders. Urge them to raise fuel economy standards to 40 miles per gallon. Modern technology can make our cars and trucks go farther on a gallon of gas. Taking this step would save nearly 4 million barrels of oil a day -- more oil than we currently import from the Persian Gulf. And by saving on gas, you would save nearly $2,000 at the pump over the life of your car.

Here are some changes I would make:

1. Drive Less! Find ways to reduce the distance of your commute. Whether it be working from home one day a week or choosing to do more things locally the easiest way to save money at the pump is to reduce your Vehicle Miles Traveled.

2. Form a "Walk to School" or "Bike to School" Club. Back when I was a kid the bike racks at my grade school were always full and "walkers" were the first ones excused from the building after classes. Today, parents are less likely to let their kids walk to school unaccompanied. To make parents feel safe to let their kids get some fresh air and exercise on the way to school, parents should work together to create "walk to school" and "bike to school" clubs. Everyday, a different parent escorts a group of children to school or the bus stop and walks them back home after school. Not only does it eliminate two car trips every school day, it might even provide some with extra chances to sleep in.

8. Cut Your Car Trips Short. Is there a place to park and get on Metro between you and your final destination? Go to and find out.

9. When Driving, Park at the First Place You See. UCLA Professor Donald Shoup has done research showing that those drivers who try to sniff out low cost parking where higher priced garage parking is available are adding an average of a half mile of VMT per trip. In an area like L.A., getting rid of that half of a mile will quickly add up and will reduce congestion for everyone else.

Unfortunately, Flexcar is gone and Zipcar has basically pulled out of Southern California, making the last suggestion is useless to Angelenos. Since car sharing is basically out, even though it is a good idea when available, let's make the last suggestion for those who walk, bike, or take transit to work.

10. Make Sure Your Employer Isn't Short Changing You. If you don't commute by car, you can save more money by making sure your employer is giving you the same benefits as your co-workers who commute by car. After all, unless you work for a small business, it's the law.

If you were to make any changes to the either of the lists above, what would your changes be?


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