Gas prices have been above $4.00 a gallon since early March with no sign of ebbing. We analyzed how gas inflation impacted gas station visitation throughout 2021 and found a surprise: it didn't. Yet. It seemed at the time that COVID impacted how often consumers filled their tanks while rising gas prices were absorbed regardless.
Now we're deeper into 2022 with even higher prices. Have gas prices impacted gas station visitation in the U.S.?
To investigate, we pulled visitation counts for all gas stations in our Venue Data Package from January to March 2022 and ran linear trend models per county. We mapped all significant downward trend models with R-Squared values greater than or equal to .35, indicating moderate or higher downward trends. Also on the map are any significant positively trending counties.
Play around with our map to view where Americans are gassing up or running on empty.
(If you're on a mobile phone, flip your phone sideways to view the workbook!)
Two regional clusters emerge, the larger being in the South. 10% of Florida's counties are trending significantly downward in gas station visits -- the highest of any state in the country, with Wisconsin in second place at 8%.
Southern states like Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee have relatively widespread pockets of reduced gas station visits, though Georgia in particular has also seen counties with upticks in 2022. Many of these states rank in the top 10 of U.S. states with the highest poverty levels. The Southern U.S. in general also has higher poverty rates compared to the North.
These poorer states in the South may be foregoing trips to the gas station due to high prices.
But it's not just Southern states trending downward. Two major counties in the Chicago metro area (Cook and Lake) show reduced gas station visitation, along with a large Northern pocket spreading across the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin that are part of the Minneapolis metro area.
Chicago and Minneapolis residents are making significantly fewer gas station trips.
A 2020 survey of Minneapolis residents showed a desire to drive less, perhaps a continued trend in the face of gas inflation. We note Minneapolis also has an award-winning public transit system, along with Chicago. Did Americans in these regions pivot to public transit?
A deeper dive into what Census Bureau statistics and neighborhood foot traffic trends can tell us about these areas is forthcoming, but the map by itself indicates clear regions of behavioral change related to gas station visits, whether for better or worse.
While we didn't see significant consumer avoidance of gas stations in 2021, it looks like 2022 doesn't follow the same trend.
Location data is the key to predicting and evaluating changes in human behavior. We can review how changes in neighborhood demographics affect business performance in pandemic-affected regions. Foot traffic can be used to predict earnings for major industries like hotels and restaurants. We can also visualize metro area traffic as a function of vaccination rates.
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