7.3% of your paycheck goes in the tank

The graphic above shows gasoline consumption based on percentage of income. The darker shades represent a larger percentage of a person’s income.

Texas drivers spent 7.3 percent of their income on gasoline in 2011, making them among the most vulnerable motorists nationwide to climbing fuel prices, according to a report issued Monday by an environmental group.

On average, Texans spent $2,889 fueling up their cars and trucks in 2011, according to the study conducted by David Gardiner and Associates. That cost, as a share of Texans’ income, also has climbed since oil and gasoline prices spiked in 2008, when state residents devoted 6.8 percent to buying transportation fuel.

By contrast, drivers in Connecticut were far less vulnerable to fuel price shocks; there, residents spent an average 3.51 percent of their income — or $1,995 — buying gasoline in 2011. In No. 2-ranked New York, residents spent $1,937 fueling their vehicles last year, about 3.83 percent of their income, on average.

Check out a photo gallery of the most vulnerable states here.

“Our study paints a picture of two Americas, with drivers in some states paying twice as much as a percentage of their income for gasoline as drivers in other states,” said Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which commissioned the analysis. “America as a whole is still addicted to oil. States can actually do a lot on their own to make life better for their citizens.”

Although gasoline spending was pegged to income in each state, the analysis did not pro-rate states’ gasoline price vulnerability based on miles driven. That’s one reason why California, despite scoring tops for promoting alternatives to oil-based transportation, didn’t take top honors for having residents who spend the smallest share of their paychecks at the pump. And it at least partially explains why residents of the Northeast — where public transit systems are robust — are among those paying the least for gasoline.

Dave Grossman, with David Gardiner and Associates, said the study focused on the amount of motor gasoline consumed without looking explicitly at the number of miles driven because that isn’t the only factor driving the amount spent on gasoline per state. “Miles driven could affect how much gasoline is used, but so could the fuel efficiency of the vehicles in the state (and) the number of alternative vehicles in the state,” Grossman said. “If a state had very efficient cars but drove more miles, that could theoretically equal a state that drove few miles but had very inefficient cars.”

For the purposes of analyzing gas price vulnerability, Grossman added, the authors were concerned about the amount of motor gasoline consumed in each state, not the range of factors that might be driving it.

In fact, the report suggests Texas may not be doing enough to promote alternatives to fueling up and hitting the road. Among the 50 states, Texas ranked No. 18 for reducing oil dependence by promoting alternatives to driving, investing in public transit, putting restrictions on idling and promoting advanced vehicles, such as electric cars.

Texas won points for taking some action to promote greater efficiency and use of alternative fuels in state fleets. The Lone Star State also got some credit for measures that encourage repairing, retrofitting and retiring old vehicles.

Texas’ anti-idling policy also won points in the survey. In Texas, with some exceptions, heavy duty motor vehicles are barred from idling more than five consecutive minutes when not in motion.

Although many energy policies are left to the federal government, states have a big role to play, the report suggests.

“States can lower oil dependence through policies that reduce sprawl, the number of miles traveled in vehicles and the amount of time vehicles are running,” the study said. “State-level policies can also promote accessible public-transit system.”

The Pacific Northwest was a bright spot in state policies to curb oil use by motorists.  California ranked No. 1, followed by Oregon and Washington in promoting alternatives.

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