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Bad economy, fewer miles

Americans, locals driving much less

Posted: February 24, 2009 1:26 a.m.
Updated: February 24, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Castaic resident Nicole Williams boards a bus which takes her home from the bus stop near the Newhall Metrolink Station. Williams, who says she is saving herself much stress and money by not driving, commutes back and forth from Castaic to Los Angeles where she attends the American Career College.

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If Newhall's Rosa Aviles could find a job, she would have driven to see her grandson in Alameda Monday instead of waiting for the bus at the Santa Clarita Transit McBean Transfer Station.

Aviles' car broke down a year ago. She's sought employment for six months without luck and she does not have the money to fix her car.

"I miss my car," she said. "I have to wait for a long time (for the bus). It's a waste of time."

Many Santa Clarita drivers are contributing to America's trend of driving fewer miles which continued into its second year with 3.7 billion fewer vehicle-miles traveled in December 2008 compared to 2007, the latest numbers available from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Sue Golbricht has to commute to Castaic from Encino every day for her postal service job, but she still tries to reduce her driving miles where she can.

"Why drive more because gas is affordable when everything else isn't affordable?" said Golbricht at the Valencia Auto Spa Monday.

"I consolidate all of my trips. I try to map out a line of travel. Then I try to find a central location to park and then I'll walk a little more."

The decline in driving miles is one reason the Automobile Club of Southern California will lower auto insurance rates by 5.4 percent, starting April 1, spokesperson Marie Montgomery said.

"People are driving less and there (are) fewer collisions," Montgomery said. "There's no question the economy has affected the amount of driving going on out there. People have lost their jobs so maybe that's why there's not as much commuting going on."
Recently jobless Cindy West of Canyon Country is less likely to be seen driving around town.

"No big trips - I can't because the economy is so bad," West said. "It does help that (gas is) lower to run errands. But if I'm going to do errands, I just do them all at once so I don't have to keep going back and forth from Valencia to Canyon Country."

While gas prices still do not come close to the $4.50 plus prices seen last summer, some drivers are still in the habit of conserving fuel.

"Last summer we had those $4.60 or something gas prices. That probably didn't help either," Montgomery said.

Golbricht said she's become one of those habitual savers ever since those pocket-emptying prices.

"It just seems like the right thing to do," she said.

The consecutive 14-month trend of declining driving - between November 2007 and December 2008 - now tops 115 billion vehicle fewer miles traveled, compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.

At 4.8 percent fewer vehicles-miles traveled compared to December 2007, the new data shows the West - a block of 13 states - experienced the biggest decline, the administration's report said.

The California traffic-volume report showed a 5.5 percent decrease in miles traveled compared to December 2007.

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