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As gasoline costs mount, many Canadians are changing their driving habits and adjusting spending to cope with the financial impact.Michelle Siu/The Canadian Press

With gas prices holding well above $2 per litre in most of the country, Canadians are feeling the pinch.

Oil and gasoline prices have been on the rise for much of this year, particularly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February. Oil prices have climbed to about US$120 a barrel amid tight supplies, leading to higher gas prices as refineries struggle to keep up with demand.

In previous run-ups, motorists would grumble and carry on. This time around, the $2 mark has proven to be a pain point for many, forcing them to adjust their driving and spending habits amid a broader surge in inflation. Many are driving less, cancelling excursions or strategically planning their trips, while others are cutting back on general discretionary spending to offset the higher cost of gas.

Consumers have increasingly been searching for fuel-efficient vehicles and more are choosing to downsize, said Cody Green, co-CEO of Canada Drives, an online retailer based in Vancouver.

Canada Drives noticed a sudden shift in buying in May, putting smaller cars ahead of SUVs. “Historically it was 1:1 cars to SUVs for sales, but in May we’ve seen cars selling 25 per cent more than SUVs,” Mr. Green said.

Calgary resident Derek Dukelow downsized his SUV in January due to rising gas prices and switched to a 2016 Ford Fiesta, which he uses to drive to work. He has also put off going to the movies – a favourite pastime – to reduce expenses and has cut the number of camping trips with friends this year from a planned 10 to four, because of the two-hour drive.

“It’s taking away some of the enjoyment. Even just going for a drive to the mountains used to raise my spirits, and now I ask: ‘Should I save that gas?’ " Mr. Dukelow said, adding that it has been stressful. “Us blue-collar workers are not getting any richer. It’s an anxiety-inducing time.”

Lori Kalemkerian, a Toronto resident, has cut back on plans to visit her family in Michigan and New Jersey this year. She’ll be making just one trip instead of the multiple trips she had planned.

“I feel like I’m still being limited from seeing them because the gas is so prohibitive,” she said. “Family is important – they’re everything.” An avid online shopper, she has also cut down on that spending as well.

A recent survey by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants found that almost two-thirds of Canadian drivers are driving less due to rising gas prices. About 22 per cent said they’re driving “a lot less,” and 41 per cent said “a little less.”

Canadians in rural areas are looking for any way to avoid long trips.

“If we need milk or groceries, we no longer just make that trip into town. We wait and go without until a major grocery haul a week or so later,” said Kerry Taylor, a financial strategist in Okanagan Valley, B.C., whose closest reasonably priced grocery store is 45 minutes away in Vernon.

“Our little hay farm has a budget of $3,000 a year in diesel, and now it’s closer to $6,500. That’s doubling our price to make hay,” Ms. Taylor added. “So suddenly we’re analyzing how much we have to price the hay just to break even. If we can’t make hay, then the horses don’t have food or the livestock. So this trickles down to food prices … because my expense just went up 50 per cent. You need fuel to make food.”

North Battleford, Sask., resident Evan Vaughan says he has cut back on visiting friends and family in other provinces and has avoided travelling to the mountains for recreation in order to save the $150 fill-up for his SUV.

Driving is unavoidable in the Prairies, he noted, where communities are spread out and public transit is often minimal. It has become unaffordable for some people in outlying areas to get to towns or cities, so they end up paying more for food in small local stores. He has also noticed more hitchhikers recently.

“It’s always been cheap out here, but now the cost of living is skyrocketing,” Mr. Vaughan said.

Even simple pleasures are now prohibitive for some. Kim Stoodley, a resident of Surrey, B.C., who is on a fixed budget and between jobs, used to drive to get a coffee each day, but now only takes her car out every few days. When she does, she buys four cups of coffee and places three in her fridge to reheat in the following days. That helps her cap her weekly gas bill to about $25.

People who want to drive less are also looking for properties closer to public transit, said Adam Hoffman, a Toronto real estate agent at Property.ca Inc. And realtors themselves are feeling the pinch, narrowing the territories they cover and referring some clients elsewhere, Mr. Hoffman said.

The gas-price surge is likely to make public transit systems, which have been filling up as the pandemic eases, even busier. According to a 2021 study by the Canadian Urban Transit Association, when gas prices increase 10 per cent, ridership increases 1.44 per cent.

Automotive experts have been offering tips for saving fuel, such as driving slower and avoiding idling and the excessive use of air conditioning. Heavy loads and jack-rabbit acceleration also waste gas, as do improperly inflated tires. Other tactics include completing all your errands in a single run and carpooling with friends and family when possible.

Fuel-price surges also mean a growing curiosity about electric vehicles.

“Whenever there’s a spike on gas prices, the readership on all of our articles about EVs and hybrids spike too,” said Mr. Green of Canada Drives. “Customers say it’s driven by fuel prices more than any environmental considerations.”

Gas prices in Canada have risen more than 55% since 2021, but how do they compare with other countries? Take a look at how the average price of gas in Canada compares with the highest and lowest in the world, and where Canada sits on the global average.

The Globe and Mail