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Gas Prices, Traffic, and Freeway Speeds in Los Angeles

Nicholas Burger and Daniel Kaffine

The Review of Economics and Statistics, 2009, vol. 91, issue 3, 652-657

Abstract: Using detailed data on traffic speeds for 12 Los Angeles freeway routes from 2001 to 2006, we investigate aggregate behavioral response to gasoline prices. If traffic is free flowing, drivers should slow to more fuel-efficient speeds as the price of gasoline rises. However, we find little evidence that drivers respond to increased fuel costs by slowing down. When congestion constrains traffic flow, freeway speeds should rise with gasoline price, and we find a $1.00 increase in price raises average freeway speeds by approximately 7% during rush-hour periods. Finally, we introduce a novel method to calculate the short-run vehicle miles traveled demand elasticity during rush hour. Copyright by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Date: 2009
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The Review of Economics and Statistics is currently edited by Pierre Azoulay, Olivier Coibion, Will Dobbie, Raymond Fisman, Benjamin R. Handel, Brian A. Jacob, Kareen Rozen, Xiaoxia Shi, Tavneet Suri and Yi Xu

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