Masters Thesis

Planning for sustainable alternate transportation programs: gasoline prices and behavior in Humboldt County, CA

Since Humboldt County is a somewhat isolated region, community members may feel limited by their ability to access available modes of transportation, which can be restricted by high gasoline prices and fixed annual incomes. During the last several years, the price of gasoline has fluctuated across the country. This trend was consistently prominent, even more so for a rural area like Humboldt County, as consumers willingly, or reluctantly, accept higher-priced gasoline to power their automobiles. Using a socio-psychological framework that looks at behavioral intention, this research explores the relationships between gasoline prices and behavioral intention within a rural area. More particularly, the research question asks: How do people change their behavior in response to high gasoline prices in the rural area of Humboldt County; and at what price might people begin to make alternate transportation choices? By drawing on the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1980), it is understood that by measuring individuals’ intentions, we obtain the most accurate predictor of behavior. This research will use Fishbein & Ajzen’s framework to determine if Humboldt County resident’s intentions and behavior parallel their response to high gasoline prices in Humboldt County. I postulate that as gasoline prices remain high, people’s intention to purchase less gasoline and use alternate modes of transportation locally will become more prominent. However, considering the rural isolation of Humboldt County, these behavior changes may not necessarily be feasible for everyone. Data will be collected via survey that will be distributed to local organizations, city institutions and by hand to study how past and current behaviors, personal costs, accessibility, affordability and sustainability plays a role regarding individuals’ behavior intention and choices in transportation is determined by gasoline prices. This exploratory research can provide insight into whether or not high gasoline prices have an effect upon local commuting behavior among community members. Once behavior among individuals have been analyzed, it will be more clear on whether or not individuals will continue to use their automobiles or will transition towards the use of alternate modes of transportation. If that is the case, efforts for promoting more local alternate transportation options can be emphasized.