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High gas prices have people in Colorado changing their travel habits

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Average gas prices above five bucks a gallon are straining budgets and changing the way Americans get to work, to school and vacation getaways. Colorado Public Radio's Matt Bloom asked drivers in and around Denver how they're holding up.

MATT BLOOM, BYLINE: At this Phillips 66 gas station near Boulder, the price for a gallon of unleaded is sitting at 4.89. Pumping gas into his blue GMC truck is Andy Burns.

ANDY BURNS: I'm just capping it off. I'm on a road trip to Michigan, so it's going to be an expensive one.

BLOOM: He watches as the numbers on the pump screen tick past 80, then 90, then...

BURNS: I mean, I usually pay over a hundred bucks every time I fill it up.

BLOOM: This time it's a hundred and three dollars. Burns says he's been planning this trip with his son for over a year to surprise his mom for her birthday.

BURNS: I just knew it was going to be expensive. And so we're probably going to cut a little bit on our lodging - try to find a little cheaper lodging to offset the gas prices. Yeah, not fun. But you got to do what you got to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN BELL RINGING)

BLOOM: At a light rail station just outside of Denver, Camilla Cluett is feeling out a new commute.

CAMILLA CLUETT: I'm pretty lucky that I live near the station. It's a little more than a 10-minute walk.

BLOOM: Cluett is a performer at a local museum, so working from home isn't an option. As gas prices started going up this spring, she found it harder and harder to make room in her budget.

AUTOMATED VOICE: This is the Auraria West station. Transfer...

BLOOM: She mapped out what taking the train to work would look like and found it takes about the same time and is less expensive than driving. Plus she can relax on the train instead of sitting in traffic.

CLUETT: I am crocheting a blanket right now. I think it's a good time to, like, do - like, focus on things that you can't do while you're driving. It's just getting off on the right stop instead of navigating all the cars and not hitting anyone.

BLOOM: She says she thinks the new habit will stick most days of the week, even if prices come back down.

CLUETT: Just with how convenient it is for me specifically, I think I'll keep doing it how I am.

BLOOM: AAA surveys of drivers say that 75% of people planned to change their habits when the price went above $5 a gallon.

SKYLER MCKINLEY: We are just now entering the neighborhood where we get significant behavioral change as a result of high, high prices.

BLOOM: Skyler McKinley is a spokesman with AAA.

MCKINLEY: What remains to be seen is if that softens demand to the extent that prices stabilize or even come down to catch up with supply.

BLOOM: McKinley says the soonest we'll likely see relief is when the summer travel season starts to wind down around Labor Day. But people who need to drive for their jobs can't wait.

FRED COLLIER: It's starting to hurt, you know, when it costs me 60, $65 to fill up my tank.

BLOOM: Fred Collier delivers pizzas in a '99 Toyota Camry. He used to be money-ahead a few hours into his shift. But now he says he has to work more than a full shift just to make his gas money back.

COLLIER: You start realizing you're running a thinner profit margin than you think you are.

BLOOM: Collier really likes his job, though, so he's changing the way he drives.

COLLIER: I don't do jack-rabbit starts unless I have to make a sudden turn or something. I don't put my foot in it as much as I used to. And if a customer's a ways out, I'll tell them, hey, I'm not driving super fast to get to you.

BLOOM: He also maps out routes more carefully now to find shortcuts and avoid getting lost, which wastes gas. And he's not idling his car as much.

COLLIER: One of my coworkers who drives a giant F-150 - and, you know, I'm sitting here thinking, I think I got it bad. He's got to have it a lot worse than I do.

BLOOM: Collier considers himself lucky to drive a Camry, which gets pretty good mileage. He looked into getting an electric car, but says they're still too expensive. Instead, he's thinking of changing jobs.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Bloom in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEV BROWN SONG, "ALBANY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Matt is a passionate journalist who loves nothing more than good reporting, music and comedy. At KUNC, he covers breaking news stories and the economy. He’s also reported for KPCC and KCRW in Los Angeles. As NPR’s National Desk intern in Culver City during the summer of 2015, he produced one of the first episodes of Embedded, the NPR podcast hosted by Kelly McEvers where reporters take a story from the headlines and “go deep.”