Many say they drive out of habit
By Kim Tae-jong
Kim Kang-il, an office worker in Seoul, often searches online to find cheaper gas as the price at the pumps sets new record highs almost on a daily basis. The average gas price in Seoul Tuesday stood at 2,116.71 won per liter.
Despite the financial burden whenever he fills up his 2,000 cc sedan he is reluctant to leave his car at home and use public transportation.
“It’s a habit that I can’t easily kick,” he said. “It’s very inconvenient to use public transportation.”
Because of people like Kim, massive traffic jams affect major routes, even before and after the recognized rush hours, despite soaring gas prices.
Police warned of traffic congestion on roads around COEX, the venue of the Nuclear Security Summit in southern Seoul on Monday and Tuesday, encouraging people to voluntarily leave their cars at home. But the roads remained packed almost all day long.
According to the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, the total consumption of gasoline increased to 5.6 million barrels last month, the highest February volume on record, up 4.2 percent from the same month last year.
Gasoline consumption has been on the increase for the past four months. Last November, December and January saw 0.8 percent, 4.1 percent and 7.6 percent increases respectively compared to the same period last year.
The figures contrast with the general anticipation that high oil prices would lead people to drive less.
“It’s a very strange phenomenon,” said Lee Jae-jin, researcher at the Korea Development Institute. “Given the fact that net income has stayed at the same level or even decreased in the sluggish economic situation, it’s very hard to explain.”
Gas prices broke the 2,000 won mark last month for the first time.
According to Opinet, an oil price information website run by the Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC), the average gas price per liter stood at 2043.27 won Tuesday and in Seoul at 2116.71 won.
Prices here are comparatively high due to heavy oil taxes, compared to other countries. In comparison, the average gas price is nearing $4 (4,551 won) per gallon in the United States, the highest-ever there. One gallon is equal to 3.78 liters.
The surge across the world is largely attributed to the increasing crude oil prices amid concerns over the tension in Iran.
Some experts say gas consumption here has risen regardless of the exorbitant cost because driving is viewed as a basic necessity like food and clothes.
“Drivers have been experiencing a steady increase in gas prices for a comparatively long period of time, and that also makes people less sensitive to the rise,” said Chae Hyun-gi, researcher at Daishin Economic Research Institute.