Why $2 Gas Is Amazing
May 22, 2004 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Why $2 Gas Is Amazing Gasoline is now selling at more than $2 a gallon, which, after inflation, is higher than it's been since 1981. But that's not the amazing part. Actually, there are three amazing parts.
posted by Postroad (99 comments total)

 
IANAE (economist), but...

"While $2.017 is a record for gasoline, adjusted for inflation the price hit $2.99 a gallon in March 1981..."

Take a look at this guy's personal gas-consumption records...assuming it's accurate, it appears that in recent years than ever before. Adjusted for inflation, he's been paying as little as 67 cents per gallon recently, which, when compared to the past 25 years, is quite nice, in fact. Using the adjusted for inflation figures, over the last two+ decades, he paid as much as TWICE that amount.

And here is more evidence that gas prices are not outrageously high, and still more evidence,

And more:
" headline in Wednesday's edition of USA Today read: "Oil Prices Hit Highest Since Sept. 1990." The story glumly reported that "oil traded for more than $39 a barrel last week ... the highest closing price since 1990 and the 6th highest price ever." Good news: It isn't true. Yes, gas prices have spiked upwards by at least 30 percent in most local markets this year, and yes, it's infuriating to pay $2.00 a gallon to fill up the tank. And yes, higher oil prices are a significant tax on the U.S. economy -- given that we're the world's largest importer of crude. But prices, properly measured, are nowhere near their historical peak. In fact, the long-term trend in oil, gas, and electricity prices is downward, not upward.

What the reporter at USA Today and so many other fear mongers forgot to do was adjust for inflation. In the world of economics, this is an unpardonable sin. After all, if you don't adjust for inflation, just about everything is more expensive today than 30 years ago." - source
posted by davidmsc at 1:02 PM on May 22, 2004


It is amazing because the media is telling us it is in classic doomsayer tradition.

I drive a 1959 Edsel that gets ~17mpg. As good or better than many SUV's.

If I only actually get 15mpg it still only costs me $0.14 per mile since I am currently paying ~$2.17 here in California.

The bottom line to me is that it costs me only pennies to go miles. I can live with it.

On preview, thanks davidmsc for the great multiple links from the other side.
posted by geekyguy at 1:09 PM on May 22, 2004


What else is as cheap as Gas? Bulk water perhaps. I don't see $2 as being costly considering the sheer volume it buys and the benefit gained.
posted by stbalbach at 1:31 PM on May 22, 2004


price of a gallon: tap water and Folgers Coffee are both cheaper than gas.
posted by donth at 1:56 PM on May 22, 2004


Whenever I hear Americans complain about petrol prices it reminds me of the bit in LA Story when Steve Martin asks people how they coped when the temperature dropped to "58 degrees!"

US Price per litre Unleaded : 0.26 GBP
UK Price per liter Unleaded : 0.79 GBP

posted by fullerine at 2:06 PM on May 22, 2004


Yeah, but your country is smaller. And your mass transit is better.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:16 PM on May 22, 2004


fullerine - that's because in the UK you treat petrol as a non-renewable resource that's somewhat difficult to acquire and will inevitably run out someday, while in the US we treat it like magical happy juice that's less expensive than bottled water, tomato ketchup or whole milk, all of which were delivered to the market on trucks powered by that same magical juice.
posted by jonson at 2:25 PM on May 22, 2004


And your mass transit is better.

So why is the US not pushing for better mass transit? Because people refuse to get out of their cars.

This all reminds me of a Calvin & Hobbes strip, which basically was Calvin asking his father for a slogan for road safety, and his father responded, "How about Bikers have a right to the road too, I hope gas goes up to eight bucks a gallon".

Would it be so terrible if more people had to bicycle where they needed to go, if we supported public transit, and if we got out of our cars once in a while?
posted by benjh at 2:41 PM on May 22, 2004


The UK and Europe are way ahead of the USA in the Green Revolution. Just like the Industrial Revolution started in Europe, the UK in particular, I predict the next technological revolution in low carbon energy will be Europe based, UK in particular.

Cheap gas is a curse for the US because it is not forcing innovation and change like it is elsewhere.
posted by stbalbach at 2:46 PM on May 22, 2004


> So why is the US not pushing for better mass transit?

Because having to rub elbows with the masses is vile, as is going where the transport wants to go rather than where I want to go. Here's my transportation preference list:

1. drive
2. bike
3. ride horse
4. walk
5. crawl
6. remain where I am
7.
8.
9.
10. use public transportation
posted by jfuller at 2:57 PM on May 22, 2004


7. read a book
8. be forced to smell a naked Iraqi prisoner
9. chew own arm off
posted by hama7 at 3:04 PM on May 22, 2004


Also, on public trans you're subject to random searches and seizures.

> 7. read a book
> 8. be forced to smell a naked Iraqi prisoner
> 9. chew own arm off

Yep, all preferable to public trans.
posted by jfuller at 3:08 PM on May 22, 2004


Would it be so terrible if more people had to bicycle where they needed to go

I'm with ya man. I love to bike, and I love bike trips of 400 miles or better. But for every day life I don't think biking 20 miles to college, then 15 miles to work, then 15 miles back home in the dark on the highway is really much of an option.
posted by justgary at 3:10 PM on May 22, 2004


jfuller: Way to go. You just summarized the American attitude that is going to drive this country to ruins someday. It's funny how hard it is to convince someone that their addiction to their car is really hurting them in the long run and the freedoms it gives them are either transitory or illusionary.

I've been using and benefiting from public transportation for years and I can't even begin to relate how much I saved in money, time and stress. If my circumstances permit it, I'll never own a damned car again.

What I hate about cars isn't just the usual 'happy-hippy-save-the-world-BS' (that's just a bonus) but how I don't have to deal with finding parking, hitting other cars or getting hit, paying money into an insurance industry that has clearly been incorporated in the deepest bowels of Hell, not to mention the geopolitical mess that buying gasoline supports.

Actually, I'm being harsh on jfuller, but one's aversion to the vile masses isn't a good enough reason not to develop a better public transportation infrastructure. Buy an ipod. Buy a bus pass.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:15 PM on May 22, 2004


The bottom line to me is that it costs me only pennies to go miles. I can live with it.

What would you say to my mom, who is in the inventory business, when she tells you that for pennies a gallon, gas is too ridiculously priced just to get to work which is sometimes up to 80 miles away?

Things are fine and dandy in California where everything is close together, but for four years I had to drive for 45 minutes to get to school every morning, and let me tell you - the "pennies to go miles" were almost enough to keep me from going to school.

Also, it may be nice a nice idea to say that everyone can ride a bike to work and the gas problem will be solved, but I live in the Ozark mountains. Perhaps some of you in the Aspen/Colorado Springs area can agree with me when I say that it is not possible to ride a bike here for 4 hours to get to work.
posted by whoshotwho at 3:28 PM on May 22, 2004


Would it be so terrible if more people had to bicycle where they needed to go



I commute 30+ miles to work every day, each way. Fuck riding a bike.
posted by WLW at 3:38 PM on May 22, 2004


damn, i was going to point out the UK prices, it's 0.82 GBP per litre, here in northern ireland, but if i drive about 30 miles to go to the republic of ireland it's only €0.94 per litre, roughly 0.63GBP or 1.13USD.

and yet there's complaints when the price is over $2 a gallon. sigh.
posted by knapah at 3:38 PM on May 22, 2004


American society evolved around gasoline. Our neighborhoods and businesses developed as they did because of the availability of gasoline. Now, however, gasoline is becoming more and more of a financial and political liability. Our dependence on fossil fuels led us into a situation where we can't live with it and can't live without it.

All we can do is start planning how to live in a post-gasoline society. The citizens need to start demanding public transit, urban growth boundaries, and the development of alternative sources of energy.

The Suburban communities that have sprawled around our cities not only destroy the tax bases and abilities of cities to organize properly, but have furthered the dependence on oil.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:41 PM on May 22, 2004


Actual problems with public transportation:

(1) Limited Carrying Capacity
(2) Slow (buses... I think subways/rail are pretty speedy).
(3) Limitations on operating time
(4) Limitations on where they can reach

Two years ago my car died, and I wanted to move to California. I whittled down my life to three bags, a bike, and guitar, caught a ride down to Ventura County, and set about trying to look for a job. The economy was a problem, but transportation was not, really. With the right timing, I could easily get anywhere on the coast from San Luis Obispo to Orange County, and did.

The biggest problem proved to be social: it was hard to get back home after doing something late far away, as the busses stopped running at a certain hour. If it weren't for that (and the fact I had to leave California in order to find work), I think I could have lived that way indefinitely.
posted by weston at 3:43 PM on May 22, 2004


So why is the US not pushing for better mass transit?
Because we don't have to. Our gas is only $2/gallon.

Have any of you who condemn Americans for not biking, walking, or riding the bus actually ever visited a city in the US besides NYC, Chicago, or wherever else people are cramped in at the ratio of a million people per square mile? The rest of the country is pretty much sprawl. I live in Phoenix and it takes me 40 minutes to get from my home to work each day. If I were to ride a bus, I would probably have to tack on another 2 hours each way. Its easy to say I could read a paper or something in that time, but between all the stops and transfers that would be involved, I seriously doubt anything productive would get done.
I like waking-up an hour before my shift, rushing out the door, getting my workday done, and then getting back home to my family soon thereafter. I really have no need for shitty conversation with some slimy dirtbag on a bus; I get plenty of that at work.
posted by bwinnard at 3:50 PM on May 22, 2004


Yeah, but your country is smaller. And your mass transit is better.

Petrol prices in Australia ~= $3/gal.

And the big reason for the distaste expressed by suburban Americans here for public transport: that's what the black and brown people use. Admit it. You moved to the 'burbs to get away from them, so you don't want to see them on the commute.

On preview:

I really have no need for shitty conversation with some slimy dirtbag on a bus; I get plenty of that at work.

Quite. And you hadn't thought that perhaps, if more people took the bus, the shitty dirtbag quotient would drop? Yourself excluded, of course.

And believe me, the cheers of glee when Americans have to pay even more for petrol will echo across the planet, as they finally get a gigantic fucking clue about reality.
posted by riviera at 3:57 PM on May 22, 2004


The Suburban communities that

That last sentence would have made more sense if it was presented along with the paragraph that I deleted before posting. I meant to delete that bit too, but I missed it. Oh well.

What I was getting at was how American neighborhoods have ceased to develop around central locations, but have sprawled out more mindful of the developer's profitability. In the halcyon days of gas that's cheaper than milk, people didn't care that they had bought a house that is only located near other houses. Now, many people live 30, 40+ miles from work and have put themselves into the position of depending on cheap gas. People are correct in saying that public transport cannot serve their 40 mile commutes, but those who can, possibly, relocate to a more central location, should. Living in a community means living near and around people. Living in a neighborhood means having neighbors. Americans have wanted too much "privacy" when it comes to housing. The long commutes are just the devil getting his due.

On preview: What Rivera said, without the implied accusation of racism.
posted by elwoodwiles at 4:05 PM on May 22, 2004


Wish I could find the Iowa Review Article I remember reading about three years ago, which stated "rural collapse is a coefficient of urban sprawl" -- which is to say, the developer's economic equation is basically proped up by the increasing economic difficulty of the traditional rural lifestyle. As noted else where, among those factors is that petroleum fuel price increases hit rural populations harder, both because of the distances required to get anywhere, and because farming is increasingly a petroleum intensive endeavor.

If you put those two together, you could posit there's a vicious cycle in place here.
posted by weston at 4:30 PM on May 22, 2004


I live X miles from work|school|important place so biking is impossible

**extra long preachy sermon deleted**

Those of us who do bike tend to make choices that support this lifestyle. It didn't just magically happen that I have a domicile that allows me to reach all my destinations within half an hour by bike. And I definitely do not live in an urban mecca like Chicago|NY. Though I should probably just STFU, I am sick of hearing everyone moan about the price of gasoline as if they are being unfairly affected by some uncontrollable outside agency.

on preview, what elwoodwiles said.
posted by Fezboy! at 4:33 PM on May 22, 2004


i'm not complaining about americans using their cars too much, i'm complaining about americans complaining about prices rising to about 1/3 of our prices in the UK!
posted by knapah at 4:33 PM on May 22, 2004


American gas is not magically cheaper than gas elsewhere. We pay, on average, 31% tax on gas, which is much, much lower than the gas taxes in European countries. In England gas cost $4.71(US) in September 2000, but $3.40(US) of that was tax. If they were charged the average US gas tax instead, their total price would have been $1.71(US)--about the same as California at that time. With all those taxes, one would expect certain government benefits. Americans do not get those benefits, we just get gas. It's not that it's cheaper; it's that we're paying for different things.

Also, inflation doesn't tell the whole story. What I'd like to see is a graph of gas as a living expense for the past 30 years or so. Most families have two working adults now, needing two cars. Commutes are longer. I'd guess* that families spend more adjusted dollars for gas per month now than they did in the early '80s. I'm not saying that this is a good trend, not at all, I'm just saying that the adjusted unit cost of gas alone can't tell you how rising prices will affect people.

I'm the last person to defend fossil fuel dependence, or the hysterical media, but I think that if you want change you have to look at the situation honestly. I agree that the world will not end because gas went up a few cents a gallon, but it's also not the case that the price change is insignificant.

*Of course, I might be dead wrong. I'll see what I can dig up, numbers-wise, later tonight when I have some time. I'll post if I find anything.
posted by Nothing at 4:48 PM on May 22, 2004


I moved to Cleveland from NYC a year and a half ago -- like many life long New Yorkers, I do not know how to drive (cf. NYT article about singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega learning how to drive in her early 40s.)

I am lucky, in that school and work were both centrally located by bus, but if I want to actually GO somewhere other than my happy little haven of Lakewood, it's a pain in the ass. Why? Because past a certain point, greater Cleveland is pedestrian-hostile. People see you walking and think that because you're not in a car you're one of the following things:

a) poor
b) crazy
c) convicted of some vehicular crime

with d) All of the above being a popular choice.

Urban sprawl sucks. And it kills community and all the social interaction that goes with it. I consider it a lesson learned, and a major reason as to why I'm outta here after I'm finished.
posted by ltracey at 5:15 PM on May 22, 2004


Wow, people in Cleveland sound crazy. I know I see pedestrians all the time and I've never had any of those thoughts. In fact, I used to live in the midwest (Detroit) and when I saw people walking, I didn't really think anything about how they got to where they were. I suppose the sprawl killed my sense of community, huh?
:thinkingofwaytoblamebush
posted by bwinnard at 6:12 PM on May 22, 2004


You've got it all figured out huh, Rivier. Racism! I for one would love to have access to mass transit. I don't care if green people were riding.

If I move to Atlanta any job I take will have to be at least near the MARTA line. Atlanta, by the way, has a huge african american population.

Guess I don't fit the little white/american stereotype you got goin' on.

(the anger behind your post is impressive however.)
posted by justgary at 6:33 PM on May 22, 2004


For me the good news is that I'm moving downtown and buying a bicycle for shopping, socializing, exercising and so on. The bad news is I still need a car to commute to an office for two days a week and to visit customers for the other three, so for the time being I'll be stuck with doing the car thing. I wish the whole world would hurry up and get three million baud of bandwidth per household so I can just appear as a hologram instead of navigating meatspace via fossil fuel.
posted by alumshubby at 6:39 PM on May 22, 2004


American cities aren't very compatible with the subsubmini Smart cars and suchlike. Nor are American attitudes: ain't no one gonna drive some little two-seater shitcan, even if it would mean no car loan costs and 60mpg.

Which is a real shame.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:02 PM on May 22, 2004


So why is the US not pushing for better mass transit? Because people refuse to get out of their cars.

Wrong. Because in almost all of the country, the population density is too low to make public transportation cost-effective, so it is too expensive, doesn't go anywhere near your destination, or both of these.

It's funny how hard it is to convince someone that their addiction to their car is really hurting them in the long run and the freedoms it gives them are either transitory or illusionary.

You clearly live in a densely populated city with decent public transit. I live maybe five miles from my job. Driving from home to work takes me about 15 minutes and costs me somewhere around $0.35. Taking public transportation, at its cheapest and fastest, costs $2 and takes two hours. I can't walk or ride my bike there. To say that people who live in cities with inadequate public transport are addicted to their cars is to ignore reality.

And believe me, the cheers of glee when Americans have to pay even more for petrol will echo across the planet, as they finally get a gigantic fucking clue about reality.

Again, pretending that everyone (or even more than 20%) in America could take mass transit as it is currently doesn't help anything. Perhaps it isn't Americans who need a clue, but people who act like they know America without having seen much of it.

You can't claim that I can take mass transit as a viable option when it isn't cheaper, takes at three times as long, and doesn't even go to the airport. (And no, this isn't in a small town. It's a city of a million people—and a rather important one at that.)
posted by oaf at 7:04 PM on May 22, 2004


takes more than three times as long
posted by oaf at 7:06 PM on May 22, 2004


I commute 30+ miles to work every day, each way. Fuck riding a bike.

And who, exactly, told you to move to bone-fuck USA?

But I won't fault you for moving 30 miles away from your job, it's what everyone else does. And why not? When you move 30 miles from the city core, you don't have to deal with things like, say, blacks, mexicans, or homosexuals.

Instead of everyone complaining about how far they live from everything, why don't people do the novel thing of moving closer to things. The reason mass transit doesn't work is because of urban sprawl, because people live where only farmers should live.

And even if someone lives in the subburbs, there are some stores out there, and the kid's schools are out there. So why does every single family member need their own car. The worker who has to drive 30 miles can take the car, and everyone else can bus it. Don't have public transit? Ask for it. Get involved. Deal with "the masses". Sure, some of them are "vile", but hey, that's life. There are other people on Earth besides yourselves, so get over it, rub elbows, and deal.
posted by benjh at 7:11 PM on May 22, 2004


But I won't fault you for moving 30 miles away from your job, it's what everyone else does. And why not? When you move 30 miles from the city core, you don't have to deal with things like, say, blacks, mexicans, or homosexuals.

Why do you assume the above poster moved into the suburbs? Couldn't it be a situation like this, which happened to my husband a few years ago:

He had a great job at a company located only 15-20 minutes away by bus. We live in a neighborhood just outside of downtown, and the job was downtown. The distance was walkable (on days when there was enough time for the walk), and not bad for biking, though Seattle is hilly so it's not always ideal.

Then the company was sold. And moved to Lynnwood, about 20 miles away. Bus transport would be slow and awful. The drive would have been awful, as well, with traffic on I-5 the way it is.

He chose not to move with the company and was able to find another job, also in downtown Seattle. This was during the tech boom so that was a lot easier than it is now. In the current job market that is a scary decision to make (you risk not only your income, but also your health insurance, generally) and I certainly would understand those who choose the commute.

My point being that sometimes it's not that you move awy from the job, it's that the job moves away from you. And in today's job market, where employers have no loyalty whatsoever, it's stupid to sell your home and move to follow a job that may be gone next month.

I might also add that accusing everyone in the suburbs of living there because of racism is awfully flamebaiting. I can't stand suburb life myself, but I know people live there for lots of reasons that do not necessarily have anything to do with racism.
posted by litlnemo at 7:41 PM on May 22, 2004


"But I won't fault you for moving 30 miles away from your job, it's what everyone else does. And why not? When you move 30 miles from the city core, you don't have to deal with things like, say, blacks, mexicans, or homosexuals."

I'm just gonna quickly point out that this isn't necessarily true, and it's pretty silly to assume so (i.e. "oh no, the mexicans! let me now drive thirty miles away!").

For example, here in San Diego, jobs aren't mainly in the city core, where the "blacks, mexicans or homosexuals" might uh...be. I drive about 30 miles to work from the main city area, to a generally white soccer mom suburb. So even if i wanted to move closer to my job, not only would I not be able to afford the area, I'd rather stab myself in the eyeball twice hourly than live in that strip-mall hell hole.
posted by fillsthepews at 7:43 PM on May 22, 2004


If I move to Atlanta any job I take will have to be at least near the MARTA line. Atlanta, by the way, has a huge african american population.

Really? Gosh, and I thought the Martin Luther King centre was out of place. Nice bit of condescension there. Although from what I hear from (white) people who've visited Atlanta, they had never felt so conspicuously white as they did using public transport. (And these people live in areas of London with a majority black population.) And, having mentioned their use of public transport to (white) natives, they got the kind of startled response normally reserved to those who say they've been on the bus... naked.

Since I don't drive, but I do travel, I've ended up taking public transport in all manner of places, rather than go from airport arrivals lounge to a hire-car, with its air-conditioned insulation from the smelly masses. It's a great way to learn -- quickly -- about the place you're visiting. (Though, from this, I presume it's not so good a cultural window on the US.)

But, to return to the thread's topic: pretty obvious that if Americans are treating the $2 gallon of petrol as if it's the beginning of food rationing, in spite of editorials trying to cushion the perceived blow, something's gotta give. And I suspect that market forces may actually have a role to play, whether it's through removing the stigma attached to a car that does less than 20mpg (a stigma which apparently prevents Ford or GM from selling their most popular models in the US) or through making it less attractive to live that extra 20 miles away from godforsaken society. Because all the temper tantrums in the world won't make it go away.

Necessity is a great force for social change. Well, necessity and the desire not to end up living in Slough.
posted by riviera at 7:46 PM on May 22, 2004


There are other people on Earth besides yourselves, so get over it, rub elbows, and deal.
Likewise.

I'll be thinking of you bus riders tomorrow afternoon when I dash out to start my car just to let it run idling in my driveway for 10 minutes only so the air conditioning can get to a comfortable temperature. At the same time, I'll be thanking the heavens that I didn't have to stand around idling in the Arizona sun at a bus stop an hour's walk away just to pickup a (plastic) sack of groceries. God bless America.
posted by bwinnard at 7:48 PM on May 22, 2004


I got gas yesterday and the guy in front of me was filling up his Chevy Suburban. He yelled to me "New record...$89!"

I got into my Civic that I'd just filled past the brim and said "$24!", waved, and drove off.
posted by GaelFC at 7:58 PM on May 22, 2004


Instead of everyone complaining about how far they live from everything, why don't people do the novel thing of moving closer to things.

I live less than four miles (driving) from work. If I were to take the bus, the route would cover somewhere near 25 miles. You can't tell me I don't need a car. (Well, you could, but I'll laugh at you because you clearly wouldn't know what you're talking about.)
posted by oaf at 8:02 PM on May 22, 2004


Four miles? That's biking distance.

And if the routes aren't working, find out why. Look into getting involved with local transit authority, and see if a route can be put in that would put you closer.
posted by benjh at 8:17 PM on May 22, 2004


That's biking distance.

The biking distance is actually about ten miles.
posted by oaf at 8:19 PM on May 22, 2004


Americans pay half what we pay in Korea for fuel. Shut the fuck up.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:25 PM on May 22, 2004


very interesting thing from american street on the reserves:
Democrats are asking Bush to stop buying oil (using OUR Social Security money to do it) when it's at the highest price ever, not to "tap the reserves." The SPR currently stands at 659 million barrels, with a capacity of 700 million. The government is buying 170,000 barrels of oil each day, at a time of peak demand, driving prices even higher.
Watching what they DO, this is a crony deal, sending 170,000 barrels times $41 each day going from the government to Koch Supply & Trading, LP, a major funder of the Right.
Remember, aside from what they are SAYING, what they are DOING is refusing to stop BUYING MORE OIL at a time of peak demand, at the highest prices ever, when the reserve is just about full anyway.

posted by amberglow at 8:31 PM on May 22, 2004


One other reason not to live near the main urban areas is that you can't afford it. Admittedly i live in berkeley specificly because it has public transit (even if it is the piece of crap overpriced bart that breaks everytime it rains, damn i miss the boston T), but i'm going to have to spend 300 grand to get a one bedroom condo (my first "house"). If you live on a more modest budget and wish to get some form of collateral (ie: stop renting) the only option is to move to the burbs.

The complaints that this country is too big for public transit are correct on many levels (how many of you have driven across america, driving 80 mph for 5 days (not straight), is probably the only way to get a true feeling for the continents size). The cost for these systems is HUGE, both in construction and in property rights (add the fact that NOBODY wants to get a train track installed in thier backyard). Seattle is a great example of a city that both desperately needs public trains and yet will probably never get them as the residents are too fearfull and not willing to take up the costs of disruption to the status quo (and that's a damn liberal city).

My main hope for the $8 gas is that it will force americans to start buying into new tech like the prius, and eventually lead us to switch to hydrogen (at least then we can use nuke or renewable energy to power our vehicles and only have to worry about point source emissions). In the meantime i gotta go put $20 into my little two-seater shitcan miata to fill up the tank and last me another month.
posted by NGnerd at 8:36 PM on May 22, 2004


Look into getting involved with local transit authority, and see if a route can be put in that would put you closer.

This isn't really an option. The downtown people-mover that was first proposed in 1971 took until 1998 to become even halfway functional (there was a stint from about 1987-1995 or so where it had three stations, one of which was and still is at an empty field which serves as a parking lot).

I could ask them to put in a route that goes directly between home and work, but I probably won't live here by the time it's implemented. I'd probably be more likely to get the Legislature to repeal the law against riding bicycles on limited-access highways (which is why I have to bike far more than four miles but only have to drive four miles).
posted by oaf at 8:40 PM on May 22, 2004


I take the subway to work daily, and I actually enjoy it most days. Yes, there are a lot of gross people, but watching crowds is fascinating.

What I can't understand is how people deal with traffic every morning without going postal. I'll take the masses over Hummers and Navigators.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:40 PM on May 22, 2004


I'll be thinking of you bus riders tomorrow afternoon when I dash out to start my car just to let it run idling in my driveway for 10 minutes only so the air conditioning can get to a comfortable temperature.

Nah: you'll be thinking of nothing but yourself. I'm sure you use the car-pool lanes under the assumption that your ego counts as a passenger.
posted by riviera at 9:15 PM on May 22, 2004


Yeah, but your country is smaller. And your mass transit is better.

Both true in an absolute sense, but as an argument on this topic, it cries ignorance of the real situation. The UK is not a mass transit paradise. Its railways have been ranked among the worst in Europe. Mass transit only becomes a 'total' solution in the UK if you live within 25 miles of the centre of London, or only need to commute between city centres and/or the suburbs of major cities. Granted, this is an improvement over the US.

I certainly would find it impossible to carry out my work without a car here in the UK. I rarely go out, yet my mileage is still 8,000 a year because of the distance I travel in the country. While the UK is a smaller country, due to the sky high property prices that cover the entire of the South East, many people commute over 50 miles each way to work. If you took this and scaled it up to the size of the US, that'd be somewhat like an American driving 500 miles to get to work. A smaller country does not always equal smaller regular journeys.

What I can't understand is how people deal with traffic every morning without going postal. I'll take the masses over Hummers and Navigators.

Easy. I have access to air conditioning, I have my music or the radio on proper speakers, I can wind the window down and feel the wind.. most importantly.. I HAVE A SEAT!! :-) Different strokes for different folks. I'd rather sit down, be the temperature I want, and have my own company than be forced to stand with my nose in someone's armpit (yes, I commuted that way every day once upon a time).
posted by wackybrit at 9:21 PM on May 22, 2004


I should correct my comment above with what I really meant.. A smaller country does not make journeys shorter by a similar ratio of its area to that of another country (i.e. England may have half the land mass of France, but average journeys are not half the distance).
posted by wackybrit at 9:24 PM on May 22, 2004


The complaints that this country is too big for public transit are correct on many levels (how many of you have driven across america, driving 80 mph for 5 days (not straight), is probably the only way to get a true feeling for the continents size).

With respect, the appeal to geography without qualification just doesn't hold. The Indian government didn't make a US-style wholesale switch to a road-based transport policy (although the BJP was working that way until its defeat) and the railways remain the engine of the state.

But you're right that the housing market makes it easier, right now, for people to add 20 miles each way to their commute. But as I said, the moment at which fuel prices turn the intangible costs of commuting into very tangible ones is the point at which either the housing market or the demographics of work start to change.
posted by riviera at 9:28 PM on May 22, 2004


I got gas yesterday and the guy in front of me was filling up his Chevy Suburban. He yelled to me "New record...$89!"

My brother and I just filled up a moving truck for less than this a few days ago.
posted by weston at 9:29 PM on May 22, 2004


With US cars doing 15 (US)mpg & UK doing 35-45 (UK) mpg, the distances travelled and the octane ratings (US ranges 87-93, UK 95 up) US drivers are paying as much as their UK counterparts.

Prices in LA are breaking $2.60 now.
posted by i_cola at 9:50 PM on May 22, 2004


The biking distance is actually about ten miles.

Electric bike. Scooter. Electric car. There are sorts of cool tools that are made for that distance. Electric mopeds can drive on roads at pretty fast speeds and easily handle 4-10 miles and back.
posted by stbalbach at 9:53 PM on May 22, 2004


benjh - this may come as a shock and surprise to you, but some of us were actually BORN in bone-fuck USA. And some of the people who were BORN there are blacks, mexicans and homosexuals.

Maybe you ought to come out here and rub some elbows with us before you come to such prejudiced, asinine conclusions.

As a Midwesterner, I'm getting damned sick of people from big-assed cities who don't know shit about us, how we live, or why public transportation isn't going to be a cure-all for us. I live 4 miles from work. There isn't a bus stop within a mile. Don't tell me to ride a bike in the middle of a goddamned Michigan winter, it can't be done.
posted by pyramid termite at 9:54 PM on May 22, 2004


But it's not winter. You could be riding the bike right now.

Right tool for the job.
posted by calwatch at 10:04 PM on May 22, 2004


I'll stick up for pyramid termite here. There are vast swathes of the US that hardly get a radio signal, let alone any kind of public transport. Try vacationing in the 'Wild West' without your own vehicle.

The problem in the US is that the urban areas could have developed without the need for so much private transport but in most cases they haven't. (I've heard a theory that tyre, gas & car companies bought out & killed off a lot of urban transport companies before WW2.)

People who live way out east of Buttfuck AZ need their own transport.
posted by i_cola at 10:15 PM on May 22, 2004


American cities aren't very compatible with the subsubmini Smart cars and suchlike.

American cities are plenty compatible with those. The American psyche, on the other hand, sees the Smart Car as some sort of shameful admission that the owner's penis is very small. How else can one explain the number of full-sized SUVs frequently seen in the 'burbs?
posted by clevershark at 11:01 PM on May 22, 2004


You lazy motherfuckers need to get on the Segway! It's perfect for your particular situations!!
posted by jonson at 11:16 PM on May 22, 2004


In America, we pay for our gas in two ways.

1) At the pump.

At the pump, we pay the cost of gas, state and federal taxes. As recently as two years ago, you could still by gas sub $1.00 USD in PA and NJ, even though gas prices in neighboring states were nearly $1.70.

2) In our taxes.

Gas is subsidized. Call it what you will, but gasoline is not paid for completely at the pump. Though I can't find the study at the moment, the actual cost of gasoline per gallon in the US is difficult to estimate, so the range is somewhere between $5.00 USD and $15.00 USD. The remainder of the cost is paid by the US taxpayer, though the vast majority are unaware.

America has a low average population density, but majority of its citizens to live in urban or suburban environments. For most Americans, public transportation would work, but since the economy continues to support the one person in one car attitude, don't expect to see better public transportation any time soon throughout most of the US. Some municipalities, like Tampa, FL, have taken great efforts to improve their public transportation. Tampa is one of the largest 20 cities in the country, but represents a small area of land with an urban population density. In middle America, public transportation just won't work. You'll see dust bowls and ghost towns before you see mass transit in most of America.

For those of you who live 30 miles from work and complain about the cost of gas, here's a hint: the market isn't supporting you at this moment in time. There are ups and downs in the market, of course, so I wouldn't suggest any rash moves. On the other hand, to live closer to many cities in America means paying hyper inflated rents or mortgages.

If I commute to the office, I commute 120 miles each way. Just two months ago, I paid $10 for the commute. I now pay about $15. I'm not complaining, I just go in less frequently. If it becomes a problem, I will move or get a more fuel efficient car.

In a one year period between 2001 and 2002, I traveled in excess of 50,000 miles, paying around $1.00 a gallon. My fuel cost that year was nearly $2,000. Since gas prices have crept up, I've managed to keep my total driving to under 25,000 miles a year. In the past month, I have traveled in my car once a weekend for a total of less than 50 miles. I don't feel the need to consume as much gasoline when it's a higher cost of my fixed income. Your mileage will vary.

I have a $2 bill from the year I was born. Do you know how much that bill is worth? Two dollars, even. I tried to pay for $4 of gas with it after reading this thread, but the attendant just looked at me stupidly. Gasoline prices adjusted for inflation is an imaginary number. Perhaps it's just me, but I've not known many people who have gotten raises as consistent as inflation without changing careers or making incremental jumps up the ladder. Prices adjusted for inflation are useful, but not to the average person. A more useful number would be price of gasoline compared to the average income. In theory, the numbers should be similar. The difference would be tangible though. It's the cost of gas as a percentage of the average income. The same could be done as a percentage of minimum wage, though minimum wage increases at an arbitrary rate.

When it comes down to it, gasoline is more expensive than it ever has been. However, it's not the highest percentage of income it's ever been. It's worrying that gas prices are going up as quickly as they are, especially considering how much we pay for gas with subsidies from tax revenue. On the other hand, demand has apparently risen a great deal state side. It's not the dwindling supply that's caused the price increase, it's a combination of OPEC policies and the increasing cost and difficulty in extracting it.

The American psyche, on the other hand, sees the Smart Car as some sort of shameful admission that the owner's penis is very small.

Whenever I see an expensive car or just a large car without a practical purpose, I think the same thing.
posted by sequential at 11:17 PM on May 22, 2004


Don't tell me to ride a bike in the middle of a goddamned Michigan winter, it can't be done.

Here in Austin TX, we have a similar problem in the summer -- I used to bike to work, and by the time I arrived and all the sweat had evaporated I had to worry about whether I was too stinky to sit within 5 feet of any of my co-workers (let alone a client). Biking home when the triple-digit heat peaked in the late afternoon required an immediate jump into the shower to avoid certain death from heatstroke.

Since then my employer has moved to a new building that's 7 miles away from my house in central Austin instead of 2 (as litlnemo discussed). Yeah, I guess that's still bikeable, but at the cost of losing a couple of hours of my free time every day, and having to ride in some really deadly traffic (rather than the merely dangerous stuff between here and the old location). Plus I'm doing more visits to clients during the day which absolutely require a car, so biking is pretty much out of the question for me now.

Sure, there are decisions people make that make biking harder (we could have chosen to live 10 miles north of the city, like most of my suburb-dwelling co-workers, who aren't terribly happy with the cost of filling up their SUVs lately), but even if you make the best decisions you can, being able to bike to work is a privilege that requires some luck, and a fairly good income, in Austin's case, given the housing prices in the city.
posted by boredomjockey at 11:34 PM on May 22, 2004


After living 20 years of supposed adulthood without ever owning a car, I recently purchased one, for no concrete reason besides suddenly feeling that possessing a car was part of being a grownup. As the combination of colour and options that beep I wanted wasn't available, I have now been waiting five weeks for it to arrive, the whole time hearing stories of rising prices and dwindling global resources that have made me regret my decision. I miss the smug satisfaction of knowing I wasn't directly affected by increased fuel costs, and now I feel guilty about adding my consumption to the problem. I could be telling other people they should be riding a bike.

But public transportation was getting to be such a chore. No one stands for old people anymore; I had visions of myself at 64 trying to balance in the aisle on a bum leg. Garbage gathers in heaps in every bus and train. I was working for companies that kept moving to more inaccessible locations. I was riding an hour and a half each way to be left with a twenty minute walk through an industrial park to get to the site. I want to believe in public transportation, I've never wanted the hassles of owning a car, but you can only stand shivering at the bus stop for so long watching everyone race by you before you start questioning the way you're trying to live.
posted by TimTypeZed at 12:04 AM on May 23, 2004


Gas is subsidized. Call it what you will, but gasoline is not paid for completely at the pump. Though I can't find the study at the moment, the actual cost of gasoline per gallon in the US is difficult to estimate, so the range is somewhere between $5.00 USD and $15.00 USD. The remainder of the cost is paid by the US taxpayer, though the vast majority are unaware.

That's silly. The US uses 131 billion gallons in gasoline each year. At a subsidy of $10 a gallon, you are talking about a subsidy to the automobile that is all of the non-Social Security federal budget.

The problem with subsidy calculations is that it ignores the benefits of the automobile in terms of making more land more valuable, enhanced emergency response time, accessibility to more destination (how would inner city residents get access to nature without mototized transportation), no more organic pollution from horses, etc. I'm willing to concede a dollar or two, but to say that the auto subsidy is higher than what the US government takes in is more than a bit of a stretch.
posted by calwatch at 12:12 AM on May 23, 2004


Also, on public trans you're subject to random searches and seizures. - jfuller

That link was freaking spooky, that was. Is it only me that hears the stormtrooper voice "Vere are your papers?" when you read it?


"But I won't fault you for moving 30 miles away from your job, it's what everyone else does. And why not? When you move 30 miles from the city core, you don't have to deal with things like, say, blacks, mexicans, or homosexuals."

You know, that's a fairly racist statement you're making yourself there, sparky. I live in a small town about 30 miles away from a big town and we've got blacks, mexicans, asians, arabs, homosexuals, and that's just on *my* block. What makes you think that only whites live in small towns?

As a Midwesterner, I'm getting damned sick of people from big-assed cities who don't know shit about us, how we live, or why public transportation isn't going to be a cure-all for us.

Preach on, brother man...preach on. (Although, I'm in a tiny Texas town...I'm with ya. ) It's also people that obviously don't have children or pets, don't need to make emergency runs to pediatricians or veterinarians, don't buy items in bulk to reduce shopping trips, don't need to carry anything bulky, heavy or difficult to manage with one hand.

I'm all about public transport. It would be lovely if I could take a train into Dallas...but there's no way the tax base of this little agricultural area could raise the funds to do it. Same for bussing. This area is taxed out to the max allowed by state law, and we have wonderful parks, playgrounds, ballfields, library, police and fire departments...but there's no money in the budget for the millions of dollars it would take to hook into the passenger train system...nor would the demographics support a bus system for a town that's only a few miles square. Hell, we don't even have a cab out here.

The roads out here are 2 lane (one lane each direction) rural roads with no shoulders, and steep dropoffs. There's no way to ride a bike safely on those roads...especially if you had a baby with you. A car is the only feasible option out here. That said, I bought my truck in 2000 or 2001...and I have yet to put 8000 miles on it. Things are close, and were I willing to risk certain death of myself and my son, I'm sure I could make 30 trips to the store on a bike to buy what I can buy in one trip to the farmer's market in my car, but it sure doesn't seem like it would make much sense...especially in 100+ degree weather. (It's already in the 90's here.)

Accusing us of racism because we live in a rural area is just absurd, pretentious, flamebaiting and ignorant.
posted by dejah420 at 12:53 AM on May 23, 2004


I can see no way to arrive at a figure of $5 to $15 a gallon. At the high end it's absurd. A "true price" of $15 means $13 subsidy per gallon. At 155 billion gallons a year* that's just over 2 trillion dollars annually, or, for perspective, a bit more than the total amount collected by the IRS in 2002. The highest figure I could find online was an estimate of 20 billion per year in subsidies, which works out to about 12 cents a gallon, less than the federal excise tax on gas.

*In 1998. U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics. National Transportation Statistics 2000. (Normally, you could find this here, but the whole federal highway administration site seems to be down and google doesn't have a cache of the detail page. If it's not back up, you can google it and find the number referenced in other DOT reports)
posted by Nothing at 1:03 AM on May 23, 2004


Ahh, I see Calwatch got there first. Sorry for the repetition.

Look, I think most people here agree that our (I say "our" as an American) dependence on fossil fuels needs to be addressed. However, it is a complex problem. Pretending that it's not (just move closer to your job) doesn't help solve anything. Pretending it's worse than it is (the entire US federal budget is spent on gas subsidies) does not help solve anything. Pretending that it's due to racism (everyone wants to live far away from the Mexicans and blacks) does not help solve anything and is also just really weird.

Do you know what would happen if gas rose to $8 a gallon? It wouldn't be a paradise of green technology, bicycles, and hydrogen cars. Not for many years. And if the price jump happened too quickly, it could delay that paradise by decades. What would happen is that poor people would get poorer and their job prospects would shrink to a radius of a few miles. Middle class people would still drive to work because a few hundred dollars more per month in gas would be cheaper than the 500-1000 more per month in rent to live closer to the city. Food prices would skyrocket and starvation would become a serious problem. Tens of thousands of jobs would be lost as trucking companies, taxi services, malls, outlets, and the hundreds of businesses directly affected by gas prices folded. People who could afford to would rush to replace their trucks and SUVs with high mileage vehicles, which should be a good thing, except that replacing a working vehicle is often worse for the environment than sticking with a lower efficiency one until it needs replacing.
posted by Nothing at 2:07 AM on May 23, 2004


The roads out here are 2 lane (one lane each direction) rural roads with no shoulders, and steep dropoffs. There's no way to ride a bike safely on those roads...especially if you had a baby with you. A car is the only feasible option out here.

So what you are saying is that there are no bike lanes because everyone drives because there are no bike lanes...rinse, repeat.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:06 AM on May 23, 2004


The roads out here are 2 lane (one lane each direction) rural roads with no shoulders, and steep dropoffs.

I forgot that from my grandmother's perspective, having a car is even more of a necessity. She lives 8 miles from the nearest grocery store (and from the nearest traffic light, for that matter), and six miles of that is on a road that has almost no shoulder and people tend to speed on. Riding a bike on that road is for people with a death wish. Of the two roads that lead to the area around her house, one had to have the shoulder repaved to stop the entire road from crumbling. The county can barely afford to keep the roads maintained in that area. There's absolutely no way public transportation is viable.

And it's supposed to get up to the 90s here soon as well. Except here, the humidity is about 80%, so sweating doesn't cool you off; it just drenches you.

The nearest hospital is 21 miles from her house.
posted by oaf at 4:18 AM on May 23, 2004


So what you are saying is that there are no bike lanes because everyone drives because there are no bike lanes...rinse, repeat.

Do I need to define rural for you? This means that you have to bike for an hour just to get as many groceries as you can fit on your bike.

The reason isn't lack of bike lanes. It's overabundance of distance.
posted by oaf at 4:21 AM on May 23, 2004


calwatch - we've had thunderstorms on and off for the last 3 weeks. More on than off. Your problem is that you live in an area of the country that doesn't HAVE real weather - we do.
posted by pyramid termite at 5:43 AM on May 23, 2004


if gas prices aren't outrageously high, then why does it cost so damn much to fill my tank?
posted by mcsweetie at 7:00 AM on May 23, 2004


Fucking hell, people. Despite your ignorance, millions of people (some black, mexican or gay...gasp!) live nowhere near a major city in the first place. And generally people can not afford to uproot and move everytime they get a new job, cuz yanno... that is even more expensive than gas.

Every family member needs a vehicle, and we need a truck too. Roads are NOT bicycle friendly and there is no place to lock up your bike when you reach your destination so it will not be stolen.

There is no public transit, and for a lot of us, our jobs require us to be in our vehicles driving to different places all over the area on a regular basis anyway.

Not everyone works in a god damned office building or department store where they go to work in the same spot every day of the week.
posted by bargle at 9:01 AM on May 23, 2004


sequential's point is, I think, one of the most important here.

One of the jobs of government is to make certain things 'feel' cheap, because having certain things feel cheap makes life easier in other ways. In some countries, the government takes the sting out of healthcare, or unemployment, or incapacity, or maternity leave; in the US, the government takes the sting out of owning a Hummer and driving it 50 miles to and from work.

There are points of crisis, generally, when those objects of government subsidy no longer feel highly subsidised. Or, alternatively, when they feel as cheap in terms of quality as they cost at the point of delivery. In Britain, that's what has happened with elements of the NHS: it feels 'unpaid for'. In the US, petrol now doesn't feel as if its price is being massaged by the benefit of the automotive populace. Like I said, something's gotta give.
posted by riviera at 9:11 AM on May 23, 2004


So what you are saying is that there are no bike lanes because everyone drives because there are no bike lanes...rinse, repeat.

No...I'm saying the roads were laid down when people used horses to get from point A to Point B and the only way to widen the roads would be to use an extraordinary amount of eminent domain to steal land from homeowners and farmers. The newer developments out this way have sidewalks and good roads...which is why I had an Ask Me question about bikes and kiddie carriers. I'd be more than happy to bike to the areas where I now walk...because it would be faster.

But I surely couldn't put my son and my 80 pound dog on a bike and pedal the 15 miles to the vet, or put my son's life at risk to pedal the 5 miles to the pediatrician down country roads.

There are lots of us who prefer to live in the country...and it has nothing to do with avoiding any race or because we sit around with our white cats and monocles plotting evil plans about using more gas. I like being able to see the stars at night. I like having bat houses and ducks and various critters roaming the range. I miss having foxes and deer in my backyard.

Hell, the area where I live, in my opinion has gotten way, way, way too built up, and given my druthers, I'd buy a big ol' farm another 30 miles away from the big city...but it's hard to make a living as a farmer, which is why we don't live on my husband's family's ranch, and instead live as close to rural as we can get, while still making it feasible to get into town to work.
posted by dejah420 at 9:24 AM on May 23, 2004


That's silly. The US uses 131 billion gallons in gasoline each year. At a subsidy of $10 a gallon, you are talking about a subsidy to the automobile that is all of the non-Social Security federal budget.

posted by calwatch


What United States do you live in where the notion of congress spending more than they make in a year seems silly?

If you read what I wrote, you'd see I chose to call it a subsidy. You can call it what you want, but the cost paid by the consumer at the pump is not the entire cost of that gas. You may doubt the source of the information I am sharing, but you'd be wrong to believe you can buy gas for that price alone on the open market without the American government as your broker. I'm not arguing that it's a good or bad idea for the government to do so, however Professor Roy Boyd and Associate Professor Janie M. Chermak, of Ohio University and the University of New Mexico respectively, propose the benefit to the consumer are mostly negated by the cost.

From their study:
In conclusion, the programs reduce consumer welfare, the intended results of the domestic subsidies program are, in large part negated, by the military program, and domestic refiners are the big winners under the current policies.
Here is the press release, executive summary and the actual report I was referring to when I claimed the real price of gas was between $5.00 and $15.00.
Total Annual Government Spending Subsidies:
Low estimate: $38.0 billion or $0.32/gallon
High estimate: $114.6 billion or $0.95/gallon
These are dictionary definition tax subsidies. No editorializing on my part, though I can't say the same is true of the folks at the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) who produced this report.
Up to $96.3 billion in US defense spending each year may go directly towards protecting overseas oil sources.
Estimated annual cost of oil defense
subsidies:
$55 to $96.3 billion in 1997 dollars
Sources listed for this information include William S. Cohen's 1998 Annual Report to the President and Congress, in addition to The Institute for Local Self Reliance, Greenpeace and Ravenal (1)

Is some of their "math" suspect? Yes, but I believe their point was to raise questions and awareness. The fact is we do spend money to protect our oil interests, but it's hard to quantify because consumers do not pay for this directly when they purchase a gallon of gas.

I'm willing to concede a dollar or two, but to say that the auto subsidy is higher than what the US government takes in is more than a bit of a stretch.

posted by calwatch


Fair enough. I thought it was obvious I was personally calling the hidden cost of gas a subsidy. Would you rather I call it corporate welfare? It's not the cost at the pump or the total cost of gas that bothers me. It's not even the subsidies, tax breaks and wars that necessarily bother me. It's the general ignorance of the person who walks into the voting booth. This is a non-partisan issue that is delivered to you in tasty Republican and Democrat flavors. There are facts and there are opinions on this matter, but all I seem to see on a regular basis is the grade school name calling of the RNC and DNC.

FACT: GAS COSTS MORE THAN YOU PAY AT THE PUMP. Period. How much more?

The problem with subsidy calculations is that it ignores the benefits of the automobile

posted by calwatch


Correct, but you're ignoring the fact that the benefits you list are difficult to assign a fixed dollar value for. Are these things worth the extra we pay in direct subsidies? I don't believe anyone would argue, though I'd prefer to pay it at the pump. Are they worth defending with military power?

Footnotes

1.) I could not find a website for Ravenal, but they are mentioned in various reports, including ones from The Center for Transportation Analysis, Institute for Local Self-Reliance and CATO Institute. Ravenal is mentioned in many more places, but each of these sources are relevant to the topic. ^
posted by sequential at 9:30 AM on May 23, 2004


I read some of the comments (there's a lot!), so please bear with me if I'm being repetitive.

Those of us who can get back and forth to where we need to be by alternatives to motorized transport, should be overjoyed! I don't own a car and get around primarily by bike (but I also walk) in one of the most challenging areas in the US in which to do this (Suffolk County on Long Island), and don't think I don't relish the fact that I don't have to pay for gas/car upkeep/insurance. I do put up with less than favorable conditions of all sorts (being yelled at by idoit drivers, dealing with excessive cold/heat/rain, biking into the wind) at times, however. On Long Island, it is not bike-or-ped-friendly, but I find a way to deal with it. I live close enough to be able to do this, thankfully. I planned it this way, thinking ahead to where my workplace would be situated. I can do 85% of what I need to do by bike or walking. The other 15% or so requires me to use public transportation (trains and subway) or carpooling.

I do understand the predicament some of you are in who live far from work. And I also know - having been a car owner in California - that driving sometimes is just easier. However, I did have a car loaned to me this winter, which did make some things eaiser, but by the end of the 4 months I was more eager to give it up. I think I gained 15 pounds from the combination of inactivity and pain-in-the-ass-snowy-cold-winter. I'm back to being a happy bicyclist now.

Those of you that say it's impossible for you to find an alternative to driving, have you considered using alternatives some of the time? Not for work necessarily - although there is carpooling, which is what I use for my church job on the south shore 30 minutes away - but for local errands, trip to the grocery or drug store, and the like.

Americans are still pretty lucky paying a bit over $2/gallon for gas. I know it's higher than we are used to paying, but still we don't pay nearly as much as is found in other countries.

My main message is that maybe there are alternatives you can use some of the time, and bravo to you who can do it already.
posted by doublehelix at 9:39 AM on May 23, 2004


I live in N. Ireland, and i drive a toyota corolla, i get about 40 to 45 mpg. We live on a farm, and we also have a Toyota Land Cruiser, it gets around 25mpg. From what I hear, even the 25mpg land cruiser is considerably more fuel efficient than most US cars. Would the smartest thing for americans not be to simply buy more fuel efficient cars?

The Audi A2 gets somewhere around 80mpg IIRC.
posted by knapah at 10:10 AM on May 23, 2004


As a Midwesterner, I'm getting damned sick of people from big-assed cities who don't know shit about us...

Ahem, you may wish to look at my zip code on my profile. Cincinnati. Doesn't get much more midwestern than that.

And I'm not saying people should not own cars, I'm saying each family should have one, not four, and it shouldn't be used to go to the convenience store, to schools that can be biked to, and to other things besides work.

It's all about what works at the time of day and place you are going. We can reduce dependence. Need some milk? Bike to the store for milk. Or walk. I hate it when I see people get in their cars, drive away, and come back 5 minutes later from the store that is 7 blocks away.

And no, I don't own children, and I personally don't own a car. But that's because I have friends who own cars, and we split costs on them. This way those of us who only need a car every-so-often can get to where we need to, and those who do need a car to get to work and back, can at any time.
posted by benjh at 10:48 AM on May 23, 2004


From what I hear, even the 25mpg land cruiser is considerably more fuel efficient than most US cars.

It's not a like-for-like, remember, because the US gallon is 20% less than its Imperial equivalent, so 25mpg in Britain works out at around 20mpg in the US, 45mpg at 36mpg. (And I think, on current exchange rates, $2/gal in the US = 30p/litre.)
posted by riviera at 10:59 AM on May 23, 2004


Cincinnati. Doesn't get much more midwestern than that.

...folks in Iowa or Nebraska would disagree, pretty strenuously too.
posted by aramaic at 11:01 AM on May 23, 2004


Ahem, you may wish to look at my zip code on my profile. Cincinnati. Doesn't get much more midwestern than that.

Why don't you look at my profile, and then a map. You're not midwestern.
posted by angry modem at 11:25 AM on May 23, 2004


ot/ Why do people think Ohio just exists in some non-regional limbo? Ohio is in the midwest, anyone sayin' different is itchin' for a fight.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:56 AM on May 23, 2004


It's not a like-for-like, remember, because the US gallon is 20% less than its Imperial equivalent, so 25mpg in Britain works out at around 20mpg in the US, 45mpg at 36mpg. (And I think, on current exchange rates, $2/gal in the US = 30p/litre.)

ah, i forgot about differences in gallon measures. oops.

still more fuel efficient cars is a step in the right direction.
posted by knapah at 12:32 PM on May 23, 2004


What's really really needed is an alternative to oil , not an alternative to SUV. Obvious, but very underrated as it seems many think the solution to the oil problem is some kind of optimization of consumption (mass transit, car sharing, energy saver lights etc). Even with such measures there's no guarantee the market price will follow as it's apparently a function of many variables, not only
of the demanded quantity one.

Tangent for wackybrit : Its [UK] railways have been ranked among the worst in Europe As far as I know the problems with uk railways have increased because of privatization, while all I heard about uk railways before privatization was praises. I' m curious, did privatization really affect the system so much ?
posted by elpapacito at 12:34 PM on May 23, 2004


benjh - Cincinnati IS a big-assed city. HTH.
posted by pyramid termite at 12:38 PM on May 23, 2004


The Midwest typically refers to Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.

Cincy is right on the border and those I know in Illinois do not consider it part of the midwest, just as those I know in the deep south do not consider Northwest Arkansas to be in the south. I like to think of NW Arkanas as being in the south and I am sure someone from New York would think any part of the state is southern, so it's really just a matter of opinion.

But "doesn't get much more midwestern than that" is not really true since at best Cincy is at the edge of what is considered the U.S. Midwest, certainly not in the heart of the Midwest. And it is not fair to compare Cincy to the overall conditions of the area, since it is a large city with 330,000+ people in the city proper and the Cincinnati/Hamilton metro area pop is around 2,000,000.
posted by bargle at 12:52 PM on May 23, 2004


American cars aren't so bad on mileage according to Larry David: "What sort of mileage to the gallon does this car get? 52!... In the city? Depending on the city of course, Duluth is considered a city, but it's not as big as Brooklyn or whatever."
posted by wackybrit at 1:42 PM on May 23, 2004


I'm curious, did privatization really affect the system so much?

I'm not wackybrit, but I'm going to say yes. Old-school British Rail had a reputation for being cheap and cheerful, in that very British spirit-of-the-Blitz fashion. It was underfunded, the sandwiches were soggy, the carriages smelt of the 1950s, but it got you from A to B. Eventually. Even if A was Aberdeen and B was Bournemouth.

Privatisation was always considered a product of Tory ideology rather than economic sense: even Thatcher didn't go there, but Major did. And so we got one private entity running the maintenance of the tracks and stations, and dozens of competing franchises operating on those tracks and in those stations. A recipe for shoddy maintenance and buck-passing, as the Paddington crash proved.

That patchwork of franchises means there's no real stability: new arrivals start out with great expectations and then get undercut and replaced. Throw in the huge windfalls for former BR execs, and you have the makings of a national scandal. Plus, when you have major franchises being bought up by bus companies, it's no surprise to see schedules cut in favour of... buses. (Chief example of all these failings: the removal of Anglia Railways' franchise this year. A fucking travesty.) Eventually we're going to see the entire network owned by one big bus company. Which may improve the logistics -- no-one bothers holding connecting trains for competing operators right now -- but won't improve the service.
posted by riviera at 1:55 PM on May 23, 2004


It's still cheaper than milk.
posted by kayjay at 5:31 PM on May 23, 2004


justgary: Atlanta, by the way, has a huge african american population.

riviera: Really? Gosh, and I thought the Martin Luther King centre was out of place. Nice bit of condescension there.

See if you can follow this riviera. YOU said people don't take mass transit because of the "black and brown" people.

I said I would love to take Atlantas mass transit and that Atlanta was *gasp* mostly black.

That's not condescension on my part, its simply showing how ignorant your statement was. If you don't want someone to disprove your statements don't write such idiotic crap.

Although from what I hear from (white) people who've visited Atlanta, they had never felt so conspicuously white as they did using public transport.

That's a shocker. Talking about someplace you've "heard" about. Why does that not surprise me?

I never visit friends in Atlanta without taking mass transit. I guess all those white people are illusions. Because they can't possibly exist when you've "heard" otherwise.

Bottom line is mass transit doesn't work for many reason. Racism, which exists everywhere, is not one of them. But I can tell its a catch all phrase for you. So you keep preaching about what you've "heard" about places you've never been. Ignorance is bliss.
posted by justgary at 5:38 PM on May 23, 2004


folks in Iowa or Nebraska would disagree, pretty strenuously too.

Um, just a bit.

Nebraska, represent.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:51 PM on May 23, 2004


Bottom line is mass transit doesn't work for many reason. Racism, which exists everywhere, is not one of them. But I can tell its a catch all phrase for you. So you keep preaching about what you've "heard" about places you've never been. Ignorance is bliss.

Hrm, while I agree that there are many other reasons why mass transit does not work in the United States, I would not be so quick to dismiss racism and classism.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:56 PM on May 23, 2004


I said I would love to take Atlantas mass transit and that Atlanta was *gasp* mostly black.

No, you didn't. You said: 'If I move to Atlanta any job I take will have to be at least near the MARTA line.'

That's not a whole-hearted embrace of public transport: by putting it in the passive voice, it sounds more a matter of compulsion than choice. If you're going to get into a tizzy over the fact that I've parsed an ambiguous statement one way, then try being unambigious. It's not hard. You managed it in your irate response. Try that next time.

That's a shocker. Talking about someplace you've "heard" about. Why does that not surprise me?

Oh, just fuck right off. Like I said, these are people who pile on buses to Hackney and Tottenham every day -- and who have made the choice to stay there, while others have gone to paler suburbs -- but who felt self-conscious in Atlanta because they were the only white people travelling on that particular bus or train carriage. Perhaps London is a greater leveller than most in terms of how people travel from place to place. If so, it's a good thing.
posted by riviera at 10:51 PM on May 23, 2004


Hrm, while I agree that there are many other reasons why mass transit does not work in the United States, I would not be so quick to dismiss racism and classism.

My point is not that racism doesn't exist, or that there aren't white people who would ignore mass transit because of racist reasons. But that there are several real, serious problems with mass transit in all but the biggest cities in the States much more important than racism. Take away the others, distance, time, cost, and it will work despite racism, like many things in the States.

but who felt self-conscious in Atlanta because they were the only white people travelling on that particular bus or train carriage.

Sounds like a personal problem to me. I've used mass transit as the only white person, with mostyly whites, with no one on the train but me. I don't care. But this whole idea you're bringing forward that white people don't use mass transit is simply wrong.

You managed it in your irate response.

Oh, just fuck right off.

Hah, and I'm the irate one? I'm guessing you're telling me to fuck off in an attempt to be ironic?

I won't stoop down to your grade school language, and that pretty much stops all debate.

The fact is that I live in an American city where mass transit, and its viability, has been in debate for the last year. Will it work, won't it work, why we should do it, why we shouldn't do it. I've seen the reasons for and against, and racism hasn't been one of them.

You're misguided in your understanding of why mass transit won't work in the states but will work in England. You're telling me I'm wrong about a city and transit system I use often while you're going on what you've "heard" about a place you've never been.

You almost sound like an american.

If you come to Atlanta sometime in your travels take the MARTA and enjoy your stay. And remember, those white people sitting next to you don't exists. Ignore them and you wont' have to open your mind.
posted by justgary at 5:40 PM on May 24, 2004


By the way, if you're really interested if white people actually use mass transit in Atlanta, email me and I'll take photos for you. You'd be surprised, especially since Atlanta is mostly black.
posted by justgary at 6:19 PM on May 24, 2004


I certainly saw plenty of people of every race on MARTA when I was visiting Atlanta. I loved riding the train there; so convenient.
posted by litlnemo at 8:48 PM on May 24, 2004


But "doesn't get much more midwestern than that" is not really true since at best Cincy is at the edge of what is considered the U.S. Midwest, certainly not in the heart of the Midwest. And it is not fair to compare Cincy to the overall conditions of the area, since it is a large city with 330,000+ people in the city proper and the Cincinnati/Hamilton metro area pop is around 2,000,000.

If you are going to disqualify Cincinnati as Midwestern by these criteria, you also need to disqualify Kansas City, Omaha, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, Des Moines, Oklahoma City, and a few others. As far as I can tell, certain individuals here think Midwestern = rural. In any event, try living in the greater Cincinnati area without a car. It ain't easy.

As far as gas prices go: folks, it's only going to get worse, so deal with it.
posted by moonbiter at 11:12 PM on May 24, 2004


Off topic/I always thought, growing up in Michigan, that the midwest was considered to be Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Now I hear people from Oklahoma and Kansas saying they come from the midwest, and that the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Iowa are also midwestern states!

On topic/It's too bad the tram idea never caught on in the US. When I was spending time in Holland, I lived for a bit in Nieuwegein, a little town outside of Utrecht, and considered to be "the boonies." There was a tram that took me to Utrecht where I could then catch a train to wherever I wanted to go, be it Amsterdam or Antwerp or anywhere in between or around. It was considered totally normal, AND buying a fare was on the honor system - they trusted the patrons to buy the correct fare and not steal a ride.

Yes, I know things are a bit closer together there, but I think people have a truly different mindset about travel and time. Think about all the bikes used year-round in places like the Netherlands (don't think it doesn't get very cold there), and the train use overall, which has gotten even better since the advent of trains like the TGV in France. The general US travel mentality is much more centered on personal needs above all. Believe me, I see it EVERY DAY on Long Island. Of course there are exceptions, and you may be one of them. Oil based products (gasoline) will run out in my lifetime, I believe, and we are going to have to make some changes. Who knows, perhaps in 30 years the single passenger type of driving my be a thing of the past! I, for one, hope so.
posted by doublehelix at 9:55 AM on May 25, 2004


Here is the press release, executive summary and the actual report I was referring to when I claimed the real price of gas was between $5.00 and $15.00.


Total Annual Government Spending Subsidies:
Low estimate: $38.0 billion or $0.32/gallon
High estimate: $114.6 billion or $0.95/gallon


The ICTA report has been debunked before (I can't find the link right now).

Suffice it to say, though, that the military does not just exist for the benefit of the oil industry. (In fact, perversely, we're actually subsidizing Japan and Western Europe by keeping oil prices stable.) Nor does it allocate the subsidies among the other areas where petroleum is used, such as heating oil, plastics, chemicals, jet fuel, etc. Nor does the "tax subsidy" calculation include the actual taxes which are paid by the oil industry.

We should be fair and balanced and see what the oil industry has to say in their defense.
posted by calwatch at 10:58 PM on May 26, 2004


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