Gas prices continue to hit record levels across the country and Canadians are feeling the effect.
Whether it’s making the switch to public transit or buying a bike, people are willing to do whatever it takes to save on fuel costs.
Prices in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories have already topped the $2 mark with other provinces such as Ontario and Quebec closely following suit, according to GasBuddy.
Around the middle of last month, the national average sat at $1.56 per litre, according to the Canadian Automobile Association.
Now, it sits over 20 cents higher at $1.78 per litre.
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Boost in transit ridership
Across the country, more and more Canadians are replacing their daily drive with public transit as gas prices soar.
Metrolinx, a Crown government agency responsible for operating GO Transit, UP Express and PRESTO, had a two per cent increase in ridership during the first week of March, around the same time when gas prices hit record highs.
“For the last several weeks, our staff have been extremely pleased to welcome back more familiar faces,” a spokesperson for Metrolinx told Global News. “Customers have told us they are coming back right now because of the high cost of gas.”
According to 2021 data from the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA), when gasoline prices rise by 10 per cent, transit ridership increases by 1.44 per cent.
Although it will take a prolonged period of time to see how much of an impact gas prices will have on transit, Jamey Heath, CUTA’s director of communications, said, “Anecdotally, we are being told that ridership has increased and future increases seem likely.”
For metro Vancouver’s largest transportation network, Translink, a two per cent increase has been seen this month so far, a spokesperson said.
In Toronto too, gas prices may help boost ridership levels on the TTC.
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“With the price of fuel now at record highs, transit will certainly become a more attractive alternative to driving,” Stuart Green, the commission’s media relations spokesperson told Global News.
Compared to pre-pandemic levels, ridership currently sits at 51 per cent. The TTC is forecasting approximately 85 per cent by the end of 2023.
However, the transit service is yet to make a forecast on when exactly ridership will hit pre-pandemic levels.
In 2019, before the pandemic began, 1,691,000 fares were collected each average business day. In 2020, the year the pandemic began, this number dropped by over 900,000 to 712,000.
“It is possible that fuel prices could accelerate the return of ridership, but for the time being, we have not made any forecasts about when we would see ridership reach pre-pandemic levels,” Green said.
Rising gas prices are also going to impact people relying on shared rides as Uber introduced a temporary “fuel surcharge” starting March 16. There will be a $0.50 surcharge on every ride and a $0.35 surcharge on every Uber Eats delivery.
The extra fee will go to the drivers and deliverers, the company said, noting the surcharge will be in effect for at least 60 days.
In Halifax, some cabs are now charging over a dollar per fare fuel surcharge, Global News reported last week.
Uptick in bicycle sales
Bike shops in Canada, like Winnipeg’s Woodcock Cycle, have already started experiencing an early spring rush as gas prices soar.
“Our season usually doesn’t kick off quite this early,” Jon Carson, manager at the shop, told Global News Winnipeg. “A lot of people are mentioning that gas prices are actually driving them to the store,” he said.
In New Brunswick, locally-owned bike shop Vélo has been constantly busy.
As gas prices in the province creep closer to $1.70 per litre, Vélo’s manager, Matt Brace, told Global News this is the first time in his 10-year career he’s seen such a high demand all year round.
“It’s been extra busy lately. It usually comes in the big Spring wave in April or so and right up until fall,” Brace said.
In Nova Scotia, there’s also “definitely been a lot of conversation” surrounding buying bikes amid soaring gas prices, according to Jenna Molenaar, owner of Halifax Cycles.
As gas prices remain volatile, Molenaar said now is a great time to get a bicycle.
“It saves so much money. I saved up for my down payment on my house by the time I was 32 years old because I chose to travel by bike and not own a car.”
As gas prices continue to go up, Carson also recommends those on the hunt for a new bike look early.
“Come in earlier, rather than later, and you’ll be in a much better place to get something,” he said. “The longer people wait, the less options there are.”
Police and small retailers are also preparing for an increase in “gas-and-dash” thefts as gasoline prices rise.
A spokesman for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police said it has started hearing from the retail industry about concerns related to theft.
“There’s a national suspicion that some people may resort to (theft),” Joe Couto, the association’s director of communications, said.
“People’s budgets are really being pressed these days … I would not surprised if some people, out of desperation or otherwise, resorted to this type of behaviour,” Couto said.
“These are difficult times for Canadians as a whole.”
The group has been working with the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, which represents 7,500 retailers, to lobby the provincial government for legislation that requires people to prepay — similar to what is in place in British Columbia and Alberta.
“That would really prevent a lot of the gas and dash,” said Couto.
“Primarily for us it’s an issue of the safety of the folks who work at gas stations, but for our police services it represents a significant cost to not only respond but to investigate.”
The Convenience Industry Council of Canada also said high gas prices have already spurred an increase in gas-and-dash thefts. The council noted many stores are still trying to recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic and argues provincial governments should be doing more to help offset costs.
“These are global issues that we have little control over and I think it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better,” said Anne Kothawala, president of the council.
— With files from the Canadian Press