As gas prices hovered around $4 a gallon for most of this summer, Maryland's drivers made tough choices. They switched from SUVs to sedans, limited road trips and even got on their bikes. The number of miles driven by vehicles in Maryland during June dropped by nearly 5 percent, compared with a year ago, according to federal highway statistics.
Gas prices have fallen, too, and unless a hurricane devastates Gulf Coast oil fields or some other event shakes up the world oil supply, prices may remain at their current average of $3.63 a gallon for a while, nearly a dollar more than Marylanders paid last year. Analysts wonder whether the current "low" price of fuel will cause Americans to go back to their car-reliant ways. Or will they remain gas-misers for good? Here's what some Marylanders had to say:
Owner, Acme Delivery & Messenger Service Inc.
Dellinger, who has owned his company since 1960, said his 13 drivers use up $1,500 to $1,700 a week in fuel alone, traveling routes around the Baltimore Beltway, into downtown Washington and to Annapolis.
"The price, that's the killer. ... You can't charge a price related to your customer. You can only charge a surcharge, and that hurts. Basically everybody's doing it, every line of transportation.
"The way I look at it, you're in the red to begin with. It's really put a hurting on us. [But] if you want to stay in business, you have to do the routes."
He can't foresee eliminating the fuel surcharge, which varies based on the contract, unless gas prices fall to $2.50 or so.
Until about a year ago, he had his own pump for his drivers, but he got rid of it when delivery charges drove the per-gallon cost up to what a local station charged.
Still, the pressure to conserve gas has had at least one benefit: "I've noticed a big difference in moving violations and tickets. ... [Drivers] are a little bit more cautious now."
He's not sure how he's going to make things work in the future. Some contracts with government agencies can't be raised or issued a surcharge. He also works with dentists and labs that have a fixed price.
"It's tough to change rates for customers ... I just hope it's a lot better than this year. I go month by month, I guess, see where things are."
Miller, 59, works two jobs and tries to visit her sick daughter in West Virginia once a week.
"With my limited budget and having to work two jobs, I've got to get every penny out of every mile I can get. [The price decline] helps, but it's still too high."
Since May, Miller has been "hypermiling" - trying to improve her gas mileage - by driving at or below the speed limit, gently stopping at red lights and avoiding jackrabbit starts when pulling away. She also limits her use of the air conditioner.
"I'm a very conservative person. I conserve whatever I can. It doesn't add five minutes to my commute, and I'm a lot calmer when I get there. It's not so much I've got to hurry up and get that light.
"I think if more people practice that kind of driving, there'd be less accidents. I know I've had a lot less close calls lately.
"I'm going to keep it up. It's good economics."
Executive director, One Less Car
"I think people are changing their habits ever so slightly. I know in my personal life I see more people on the bus in the morning. I see a lot more people riding their bicycles. At Penn Station I see 30 to 40 bicycles and five to 10 scooters. ...
"I think that people who have started to bike commute are probably going to stick with it. People get in the habit of getting up in the morning and getting that burst of energy from riding that bike. It just feels good to get on their bike and exercise in the morning ... and the city has made investments in bike lanes and bike parking. That will help."
With the gas price decline, "I think we will lose some of those people who changed their habits somewhat. I think that people will go back to their cars. In Baltimore we have a good but not great mass transit system. One thing's for sure, the 'choice' riders - the people who can afford to own and operate a car - want clean, fast mass transit."
Chambers says some "choice" riders won't stick with the region's bus-oriented system. Rail options - the subway, MARC rail and light rail - are more comfortable, much faster and tend to be cleaner and more punctual.
"People are always going to make a decision first and foremost based on comfort. And I think that as long as we have a transit system where on-time performance is not as good as it could be, where the rail system is not nearly as extensive as it should be, there are going to be a lot of people locked to their car.
"It seems like that $4-a-gallon level really was the breaking point for a lot of people. If we really want to see large increases in transit commuting and bicycle commuting the price of gas is going to have to be in that $4-a-gallon neighborhood."