With prices at the pump breaking records — in the Seattle area, we’re closing in on five dollars a gallon — it is a terrible time for people who have to do a lot of driving.

But on a positive note for Seattle, gasoline “superusers” are rarer here than in just about any major metro area, according to a recently published study. The analysis, which focuses on the nation’s top gas consumers, was published by a Seattle-based alternative energy nonprofit, Coltura.

Who counts as a superuser?

In the report, gasoline superusers are defined as drivers who are in the top 10% of gasoline consumers nationally. Each of these superusers burns through at least 1,000 gallons of gas in a year, putting more than 30,000 miles on the odometer. There are a little more than 25 million gasoline superusers in the U.S.

Coltura’s analysis is based on data from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey, a survey of about 130,000 households across the country.

One finding in the report is that superusers are not evenly distributed around the country. Some places had significantly higher concentrations of these folks than others.

The data shows that gas superusers are more likely to live in rural areas where people tend to drive longer distances. Superusers are also more likely to drive a pickup or SUV. In Washington, the No. 1 vehicle for superusers, driven by 13% of them, is a Ford F-series pickup.


Even before gas prices started going through the roof, it wasn’t cheap to be a superuser. On average, these folks spend about 8% of their household income on gasoline, more than twice what a typical driver spends.

Densely populated metro areas with higher use of transit — places like Seattle — tend to have fewer superusers.

Roughly 140,000 Seattle-area drivers meet the superuser criteria, which is only about 5% of all drivers — half the national average. While they only make up 5% of drivers, local superusers burn through about 18% of all gas consumed by Seattle-area motorists.

“A lot of liberals in Seattle say, ‘Oh, we’re beyond the automobile, everyone should be on a bike or a scooter,'” said Matthew Metz, co-executive director of Coltura. “… But for these superusers, there really is no substitute for driving for most of them. Either they’re tradespeople who are driving long distances in a pickup, or they live in exurbia where there’s no transit. They don’t have other options.”

The report ranks 52 large metro areas by how much gas is being used by local superusers. Seattle had the second-lowest percentage, behind Columbus, Ohio, where superusers burn 17% of the gas. San Francisco; Pittsburgh; and Washington, D.C., were also in the bottom five.

Oklahoma City is at the other end of the spectrum. In this metro, 13% of drivers are superusers, and they burn through a remarkable 43% of all gasoline consumed in the area. The other top metros for superusers are Las Vegas; New Orleans; Detroit; and Birmingham, Alabama.


The report also looks at superuser gas consumption at the state level.

In Washington, there are around half a million superusers, representing about 7% of all drivers. Superusers account for around one-quarter of all gas consumption, which is among the lowest percentages of any state.

Coltura advocates for a transition away from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles. EVs are typically more expensive to buy than gas-powered vehicles, but those costs can be offset by federal tax incentives, which are as much as $7,500 for eligible vehicles. (In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed tax credits also up to $7,500, but the measure failed in the state Legislature.)

Metz says it doesn’t make sense to incentivize all EV buyers equally. Coltura wants government to adopt policies that prioritize helping superusers make this transition first, since they burn through a disproportionate amount of the gasoline.

“Take a person like me. I think that (EV) truck is cool, I go camping once a year and I go to the dump a couple times a year … that would be great for me,” Metz said. “But I’m only putting 5,000 miles on it. The government should not want that vehicle in my hands.”

Instead of a flat tax cut, Coltura advocates for incentive amounts to be calculated individually based on the driver’s current pattern of gas consumption. Under this plan, superusers would received a much greater incentive than someone who doesn’t drive a lot.

“The whole point of EVs is to displace gasoline, and if they’re not doing a very good job then what’s the point?,” Metz said. “If someone converts from a bicycle to an EV, no gasoline is being saved.”