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Gas prices too high? Try Europe.
August 28, 2005 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Gas prices too high? Try Europe. $7 a gallon? That's what drivers in Amsterdam pay. But Europeans have long adapted to high prices.
posted by Postroad (117 comments total)

 
Europe also features public transit worth talking about. Not that some areas in the USA don't have worthwhile public transit, but most don't.

I live in Amarillo TX, it is a city designed on the assumption that everyone has a car. We have public transit, but it doesn't cover much of the city. There is no way to get from my house to my job via public transit that doesn't involve two or three miles of walking. When my brother lived here using public transit would have involved a six mile walk both ways.

Also, there isn't any worthwhile public transit between cities once you get away from the coasts. Buses are pathetically slow, cramped, etc, and trains are all but non-existant and when they do exist they cost almost as much as flying. There is no passenger rail from Amarillo, to reach the nearest AmTrak station I face a three to four hour drive.

Personally, I hate driving; I'd much rather spend my time in transit reading or playing with my computer than paying attention to the road and making life or death decisions every single second. But here (that is, not on either coast) driving is not a luxury, its a necessity.

I really don't know what will happen when peak oil hits. The reason Amarillo doesn't have a decent public transit system is because its not really possible. We've got a population of around 180k, but a surface area around the size of New York City. Unlike in Europe, or the cities on the American coasts this place, and most other central plains cities, was not designed to be compact. Short of tearing the city down and completely rebuilding I don't see how it'd be possible to implement effective public transit even when gas hits $10 a gallon.
posted by sotonohito at 7:42 AM on August 28, 2005


It's still too cheap. It should be so expensive that we're forced to break our addiction to this liquid black crack.

There are alternatives, but they're not economically feasible at these "whistle past the graveyard" prices.
posted by reality at 7:48 AM on August 28, 2005


reality: I agree, we need to get over oil, and all the other fossil fuels. I just wonder how long the times of troubles will be after oil hits peak and before we develop an alternative. Because right now there is absolutely no way for me to get food, go to school, or even have clean water to drink without using fossil fuels.

I suspect there will be wars, riots, deaths, and very bad times indeed before the problem is solved. Peak oil is coming, I'm pretty much certain of that, and when it arives you can expect to see the cost of everything double, or possibly tripple. A loaf of bread requires petrolium derived fertilizers and pesticides on the wheat crop, the farmer uses petrolium fueled equipment. The wheat must be moved, by petrolium powered truck, to a processing plant. Etc. There is absolutely nothing we use that does not involve petrolium at pretty much every stage of its production and shipping. When peak oil hits I'm just hoping I can afford to keep myself fed, because I'm pretty poor right now.
posted by sotonohito at 7:57 AM on August 28, 2005


sotonohito, it's not just the middle of the country where public transit is noticeably lackluster to the point of being unusable. Everywhere I've been on the east coast, with the exception of Boston and New York, I've had to use a car if I didn't want to walk more than 10 miles to fill the gaps left by public transit.
posted by odinsdream at 7:58 AM on August 28, 2005


America could have better public transit, but then who would buy all the cars?
posted by ackeber at 8:01 AM on August 28, 2005


America could have better public transit, but then who would buy all the cars?

...and, even more importantly, the gas/oil that powers them?
posted by wsg at 8:10 AM on August 28, 2005


America could have better public transit...

...but who'd pay for it? You start talking about public transportation, and you better be prepared for screams of bloody, godless Socialism.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:15 AM on August 28, 2005


Gas is more expensive in Europe and American public transportation sucks. In other news, water is wet and the sky is blue.
posted by pieoverdone at 8:15 AM on August 28, 2005


I hear this argument from SUV driving lunatics all the time. Tell you what: when those European countries you speak of have 50+ years of history fighting bloody wars by proxy in oil-rich countries in order to install governments friendly to them, then maybe those countries will have cheaper gas.
posted by damnthesehumanhands at 8:15 AM on August 28, 2005


Don't worry. By this time next summer, gas will be $7 in the US, too. Maybe by Christmas.
posted by Balisong at 8:16 AM on August 28, 2005


That's why my mum is devoted to Bessie, her Lupo
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:19 AM on August 28, 2005


Taking the bus isn't an option for some of us.
I drive an average of 60-100 piles a day, and cary about 1000 pounds of tools with me.

I can't fathom waiting at a bus/light rail station trying to load all the crap I need for my job on and off.
posted by Balisong at 8:23 AM on August 28, 2005


The US is going to start kicking itself soon for letting the rail infrastructure get paved over. I was looking at an 80 year old map of our city. We had a lot of lines straight into downtown with plenty of lines running to surrounding areas.

It's not liquid black crack, it's what we do. It's not an addictive substance, it's a way of life. The automotive industry helped make the world what it is today - just look at developing and thrid world countries.
posted by tomplus2 at 8:32 AM on August 28, 2005


My bike is my public transportation, but even my bike uses a small number of petroleum products for purposes of lubrication and cleaning. I'd like to think that there'll be enough oil to keep me in chain-lube for some time to come, but with the proliferation of Hummers lumbering down my street every day that hope is fading rapidly. Saving the oil for processes that benefit the public more equally (public transportaion, power generation, farm machinery, shipping of goods, etc.) would seem to be common sense. Might astronomical gas prices force the Joneses to give up the unecessary gas-hog? I'd hope so. And if that increase in the price of oil meant a bump up in the price of bread, grease, or electricity, I think I could deal with it (though as a student I am also chronically broke).

I may be terribly naive, but it seems to me that increasing the price of gas to $7 a gallon or so, with the excess above $3/gallon being allocated to public and commercal transportation programs or power generation, would select those selfish enough to want to own giant, gas-guzzling vehicles right out of the ability to do so, while giving those willing to ride a bus or train the opportunity to. Certainly, this is a comically unlikely scenario, as no one with the power to do anything about an oil shortage is likely to make a move until our highways are littered with immobile Yukons and Suburbans, and the soccer moms are pounding down the doors of the white house because they can no longer be conveyed conveniently from point A to point B in thier own Sherman tank. Even then, the president still owns a Segway, so what does he care?
posted by Pecinpah at 8:34 AM on August 28, 2005


FYI: Shell is expected to make $20bn in profit this year, up 27% on last year. Last year Exxon Mobil made over $27bn, up over 40%. BP made $16.2bn, up 26%.

Insider trading, anyone?
posted by tapeguy at 8:39 AM on August 28, 2005


Its not the price of gas that scares me, its the price of heating oil. I can figure out a way to get to work, buy groceries, etc, even if it means a simple weekly carpool. What I can't figure out how to do is find the $5000 or so to switch the way I heat my house from oil to natural gas.

Lots of people in the Northeast will freeze to death in a year or two, I fear.
posted by anastasiav at 8:52 AM on August 28, 2005


Diesel is huge in Europe as well, with all the manufacturers featuring diesel models. I've not seen a Honda or Toyota diesel powered car here in NA.
posted by juiceCake at 8:54 AM on August 28, 2005


I don't drive and exclusively use public transportation. That being said, I've always been disturbed by the speed with which retail prices reflect spot market changes, particularly on the upside.

There is a fundamental difference between historic cost and replacement cost. I seem to recall reading that it might take about sixty days for a barrel of oil to be processed into gasoline available at your pump.

But why are retail prices so damn volatile? I realise it's a form a profit maximising behabiour, but it's do damn obvious.
posted by Mutant at 8:59 AM on August 28, 2005


Does anyone know how many gallons of gas one barrel oil can make?
I realise that there are byproducts, and oil goes into making plastics, rubber, etc. But if optimised for making just fuel, how many gallons of gas could come out of a 55 gallon barrel of oil?
posted by Balisong at 9:04 AM on August 28, 2005


People's tolerance for high gas prices seems inordinately high, lately. I remember Clinton getting ripped a new one for letting gas hit $1.50. He also got berated for using the emergency gas reserves as a mitigating factor to offset price spikes, so as to not rock the boat.
I just don't understand how people are willing (if not happy) to give oil companies record profits but will slit the throat of anyone who proposes a further $0.25 tax on gasoline to develop/implement an alternative. Keeping the diesel tax level would gut the argument that you'd hamstring the economy by such a move.

Obviously not everyone can use mass transit as an alternative (especially not as it sits now), and I don't espouse a mandatory program, but I'd like to think that people could somehow survive a trainride blasting their iPods instead of commuting, 1 person per car, to work and back every day.

The government now (and the status quo) is giving benefits to the car industry that makes an attractive mass transit option financially unsound.
posted by Busithoth at 9:04 AM on August 28, 2005


I drive an average of 60-100 piles a day, and cary about 1000 pounds of tools with me.

If you had to fathom it, you would. For instance, do you go to a different site every day or to the same site for a longish stretch? If you're in the same place all week or all month or whatever, maybe you could drive to the site with a strong container, leave there in a secure place, and then get around without your stuff until you switch sites. Even if you still drove the rest of time, you could drive a more fuel-efficient vehicle (maybe even a bicycle or motorcycle) and you wouldn't be burning gas for the extra thousand pounds of stuff.

Or maybe not, not in your case; I don't know the details. But in a lot of cases I'm sure something like that is possible. People just have to be a little inventive, get out of the ruts they're in.

One of the most common arguments against public transportation I hear is not the ton o' tools problem but that people just don't live anywhere near public transportation. The thing is, often they have purposely moved way the hell out into the sticks on the assumption that they would drive for every loaf of bread or carton of milk. In fact, I bet a lot of people, unless forced to by pricing, would vote against running public transportation to where they live and that they wouldn't ride the bus if it stopped at their front door.

Consistently high gas prices would make people live more sanely. They would move to where there are buses and trains or they would make sure the buses and trains moved to them. They might also support local stores rather than drive miles to hit the WalMart. Things would necessarily get a little more like the small towns everyone used to love until small towns were exploded by cars.

Many suburban and semi-rural places without regular public transportation nonetheless have school buses. I bet a scheme to combine school buses and adult transportation could be worked out. Maybe you could put a volunteer bus monitor on each bus; in any case, if the bus was for adults many protective moms and dads might ride the same bus as their children, kids to school and parents to work (perhaps via a switch to a normal bus or train).
posted by pracowity at 9:08 AM on August 28, 2005


pracowity, the problem is deeper than that. Most American cities were *designed* assuming cars. They're hugely spread out. The cost of installing any sort of public transportation like subway or rails would be impossibly high, and the only thing that leaves is busses, which are generally an impractical solution.

To have enough busses running around to equal a good subway system, you'd be burning nearly as many resources as all the commuters do. Even if the busses were electric, chances are pretty good the electricity is coming from a fossil fuel-burning plant. (given our refusal to embrace nuclear power... thank you SO much Mr Nader...)

The state of affairs is such that I've concluded trying to lobby for more public transportation (except perhaps long-distance travel) is futile. For better or worse, America's transportation future is in alternative energy sources, and that's where we should be spending our money.
posted by InnocentBystander at 9:26 AM on August 28, 2005


Insider trading, anyone?

Nope. Try higher oil prices.

how many gallons of gas could come out of a 55 gallon barrel of oil?

Aren't bbls 42 gallons?

By this time next summer, gas will be $7 in the US, too


Buy futures, then, if you're so goddamn smart.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:31 AM on August 28, 2005


I haven't seen anyone mention how the big automakers bought municipal trolley systems and systematically shut them down so they could convert all the cities to buses. That certainly didn't help. I think they even got busted for this... something about a fine of $1 or something is coming up in my unreliable memory.

Europe is way more population-dense than we are, making public transit a far more sane proposition. Running light rail lines for 100 miles in a European city is a far more reasonable thing to do than to do the same for 500 miles in a sprawling American city with suburbs and now exurbs, too.

I did a Google news search for "gas prices" last week and came up with some interesting stuff. In Alabama and Houston gas thieves killed gas station owners. All over the place people are taking out their anger on gas station employees who have nothing to do with setting the prices. And Republican politicians are facing serious... accountability issues lately with people targeting them as being responsible for the high prices. They are starting to really feel the heat. Good!

The transition to a non-gas-powered way of life is going to be hideous and probably bloody for America. Should be interesting, at any rate.
posted by beth at 9:31 AM on August 28, 2005


I walk to and from work each day (two half hour walks), and have excellent bus services available. Thus not only do I not own a car -- I don't even have a license. Of course, I live in a highly urban area.

(And when the zombies come, I'm totally screwed. (Note to self: learn to fly a helicopter.) But until then, life is good.)

Every day while I'm walking, there are hundred of cars, each with one passenger in it. and I know they all live way out in the suburbs. Pisses me off. Even though rising gas prices means everything I buy is more expensive, I derive pleasure listening to people whine about how much it costs for them to drive.
posted by neek at 9:34 AM on August 28, 2005


I probably should have posted this in this thread instead.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:35 AM on August 28, 2005


>They would move to where there are buses and trains or they would make sure the buses and trains moved to them.

If you think housing prices are high now, wait until you see a mass exodus of people from both the country and the more 'burb part of the suburbs into the heart of the city.

$1,000,000 a home is bad? Try $1 b. That's what it will be if what you're asking for happens.

Gas prices will be the least of people's problems when the only economic way to live is 5 families to a 2 storey house.

>They might also support local stores rather than drive miles to hit the WalMart.

WalMart, oddly enough, is far more efficient on fuel than your local store. I run a small store and I can assure you we use up way more gas per product driving it in a beat up 1992 bell van than a huge walmart does with its packed transport truck.

I'd love to see what the future holds, but IMHO, you're going to see huge mega stores, maybe 2 or 3 a town, with huge mega condo complexes surrounding them. Non-retail places will move out from the city core and be accessible only by public transport (or cars for the incredibly wealthy).

I think the idea that we'll move back to the small town idea is just a pipe dream and not realistic at all.

Personally, I like my version of the future, but I've never been one to appreciate nature. >:-D
posted by shepd at 9:37 AM on August 28, 2005


Most American cities were *designed* assuming cars.

Most American cities were designed before cars existed, and they are constantly being redesigned, building by building, street by street, housing development by housing development. They were redesigned over the past years and they will be redesigned over the coming years. Every time a new shopping center or WalMart goes up, that's a change to the landscape and an incremental shift in transportation habits. If people were less willing to drive miles for shopping, the next stores would go up closer to where they live. A housing development might do well to offer a walkable store or two. That alone, giving people the ability to walk (on real sidewalks) or ride a bike to a corner store would save tons of gas and help reduce obesity. Smart city planners would zone such stores and sidewalks into every new development.
posted by pracowity at 9:40 AM on August 28, 2005


WalMart, oddly enough, is far more efficient on fuel than your local store.

Are you counting just the transportation of the product to the store? Because I'm talking about customers being able to walk there and back. Think how much gas people waste to pick up a newspaper, a loaf of bread, and a pack of gum. If they could walk, many would.
posted by pracowity at 9:46 AM on August 28, 2005


I haven't seen anyone mention how the big automakers bought municipal trolley systems and systematically shut them down so they could convert all the cities to buses.

This is exactly what happened in Baltimore, Maryland where I live. The street car infrasctructure was well established and pretty much covered the whole city and surrounding suburbs. General Motors, under the guise of a dummy corporation, bought out the street car company and replaced the entire network with buses. They removed the rails and paved them over to create more roads. Now the public transportation system in Baltimore pretty much sucks.
posted by fresh-n-minty at 9:48 AM on August 28, 2005


The cost of installing any sort of public transportation like subway or rails would be impossibly high

the cost of the war is impossibly high as well but that didn't stop anybody.
posted by freudianslipper at 9:48 AM on August 28, 2005


Insider trading, anyone?

Nope. Try higher oil prices.
Sorry, that doesn't work. The gas companies are posting huge increases in profits, this means that the price I pay is only partially due to increased oil prices, and that the other part is due to higher corporate profits. I'd say its more price gouging than insider trading, but its definately bad behavior from the gas companies.
posted by sotonohito at 9:49 AM on August 28, 2005


Yes, gas costs $7 in Holland.

And yes, if gas was that expensive here, it would get more people out of cars and smack us upside the head the way we deserve to be.

But what a lot of people fail to grasp in discussions like this is that The Netherlands is slightly less than twice the size of New Jersey. Germany is slightly smaller than Montana.

High gas prices are bad enough in a state-sized discussion, but America is the size of a continent.

If fuel costs go up by 2.3 times, stuff like oranges, and wheat and corn and anything made from them (e.g. bread) will rise accordingly. You think Jamba Juice is expensive in the Northeast now? Wait.

Sure, if I lived in NYC, there's no way I'd own a car, there'd be no point. But what if living in the northeast suddenly meant it cost you ~$500 a month to to heat your apartment?

It's not just about stupid cars and getting everyone onto bicycles and trains.
posted by Relay at 9:58 AM on August 28, 2005


Sorry, sotonohito, you don't know what you're writing about. BP, for example, is making record profits because of E&P. Their retail margins were "lower."
posted by Kwantsar at 10:00 AM on August 28, 2005


the problem is deeper than that. Most American cities were *designed* assuming cars. They're hugely spread out. The cost of installing any sort of public transportation like subway or rails would be impossibly high, and the only thing that leaves is busses, which are generally an impractical solution.

That observation is spot on InnocentBystander. It's not just a problem of public transportation. It's much bigger. Most Americans have constructed their lifestyle around the car. Say you take one lane of the motorway and lay down track for a light rail, it still doesn't solve the problem of spread. Even if you buid a spar to the Walmart, how are you going to carry all those grocery bags back? People are used to buying in bulk once a week.

The house I live in Northern London was built in 1880. The roads were laid out for hackneys. There are small shops located within walking distance. We don't even have a large refrigerator because we can't carry enough at any one time to fill it. We walk to the greengrocer around the corner every other day and buy veggies for 2-3 days, we buy our meat fresh from the butcher, or the fishmonger. All within walking distance.

It is more than a lack of public transportation. Americans have built their lifestyles around cars. Shopping malls and big box stores were developed to accomodate the needs of American shoppers. All of this would have to be decentralized in order for public transportation to have any meaningful effect.

Weaning America off the automobile would be extremely difficult. The automobile really lies at the heart of the culture and the economy. The cost of gasoline in America does not reflect it's true value to the country and that is something that is going have to change.
posted by three blind mice at 10:01 AM on August 28, 2005


Balisong: how much gas in a barrel?

It's a rather complicated question because of the wide variety of oils and the options available to the refiner. If, however, a refiner wanted to convert as much as possible to the gasoline cut, upgrading all the light ends and cracking all the heavies, probably something like two-thirds. That would be cost prohibative though. In practice probably more like a third to a half.

Note that anything from gas to jet fuel to diesel can (almost) be interconverted now, so where there used to be three markets a couple of decades ago, now there is one. More cars? Then the price of jet fuel and home heating oil goes up too.
posted by bonehead at 10:01 AM on August 28, 2005


By the way, gas in Soviet Canukistan is now $1 CDN/L, or about $3.20 USD/gal.
posted by bonehead at 10:04 AM on August 28, 2005


Obviously, Detroit wants to sell cars, so our mass transit leaves much to be desired. A few years ago, I was without a car for a month, so I took the bus to work. Mind you, this was within the city proper, not the suburbs. What was normally a 15 minute drive by car took an hour and a half to get to via bus, and the round-trip fares cost me almost $6 per day (so at $30 a week, that was more than a tank of gas at the time). Not to mention the buses run when they feel like it, schedules be damned. One day when I'd been waiting in the pouring rain for 40 minutes, a bus finally deigned to stop. The huge, hulking driver had a cigarette dangling from his lips (despite the NO SMOKING sign), and informed me that I was "lucky" he had stopped. Of course, this is the same city that had to issued pocket-less coveralls to its DOT employees to try to prevent them from stealing money as they emptied the coin boxes...
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:07 AM on August 28, 2005


bonehead: see my other link. In Vancouver we're paying around $1.10CA/litre, which is $3.47US/gallon.
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:12 AM on August 28, 2005


It is more than a lack of public transportation. Americans have built their lifestyles around cars. Shopping malls and big box stores were developed to accomodate the needs of American shoppers.

Spent half of yesterday getting to a mall by public transit (to buy a bicycle, actually). A little out of the way but not far in terms of km, so would have been a short drive. Only to find out that their entire stock is sold out. Wasted a little more time at the mall, but really lost that half day.

We have decided, however, on our city's car-share program and will be joining shortly, planning for two six-hour periods or three four-hour periods of car use per month. (more is possible; that's just what we think we need)

This thread makes me proud. Whenever this topic normally comes up, I see mostly "you young people living downtown -- sure YOU can use bikes. but that's not me" forgetting completely that you permit yourself to live miles from work because you planned on being able to drive there.
posted by dreamsign at 10:20 AM on August 28, 2005


Oriole Adams points to the real crux of the matter (at least to me):

Punishing people for driving cars doesn't really work to increase usage of mass transit.

You can't push people into public transportation by making cars a terrible alternative, you have to make people WANT TO use public transportation because it's a BETTER alternative to driving yourself.

When I lived in Seattle, I avoided the buses like a plague because they sucked. Now that I live in SF, I take Muni everywhere, and only rarely use a car.

The way to get Seattleites to use busses isn't to make gas expensive, it's to make the bus system better & cheaper than using cars.

The same applies for Oriole Adams' scenario.

The same applies for every other city.
posted by Relay at 10:27 AM on August 28, 2005


Balisong: A nice site that explains the conversion from oil to gas, including how many gallons of gas come from one barrel of crude.
posted by Red58 at 10:31 AM on August 28, 2005


Relay - Seattle public transport, and the weird inability to get decisions made on it, is a subject all of it's own... But yes, basically it sucks and all we get are silly ass proposals which placer an over-emphasis on the downtown area, and (this drives me crazy) AREN'T INTEGRATED WITH EACH OTHER. So we could end up with a light rail network, a trolley and a monorail all serving the same area and not touching each other.

I don't mind the buses too bad though, but that's because I'm just going between downtown and Wallingford.
posted by Artw at 10:44 AM on August 28, 2005


"Consumers want muscle cars, manufacturers say they make what the consumer wants, and the government panders to both constituencies," Mr. Schipper continues. "It's a vicious cycle."

Since when is a free market considered government "pandering" to buyers and sellers? I don't want them telling me what I can and cannot buy, even if it means my neighbor drives an H2.
posted by knave at 10:46 AM on August 28, 2005


pracowity, I'm looking at it from the standpoint of the walmart and the small store being in close proximity to each other. In that case walmart really is the one using less gas, assuming they are both selling similar products.

Of course that's oversimplified, but it will take a real scientist and hard data to work out if, on average, walmart tends to locate itself in a place that is nearer more people than the average small store. My bets are on that they do their best to be closest to the most customers possible, though, since the closer a store is, usually the more likely people will shop there. Of course, that's barring the cities where the walmart is forced to locate outside city limits, causing people to drive 15+ minutes there.
posted by shepd at 10:49 AM on August 28, 2005


I walk to work, I mostly take the subway to run errands, and I sometimes drive my quite snazzy diesel car.
I also quite enjoy public health care, but it must be my inner commie speaking here, so you're free to disregard
posted by matteo at 10:54 AM on August 28, 2005


I'm getting tired of the argument that because much of North America was designed with cars in mind, that it's suddenly okay to continue ignoring public transit, or to think improved public transit is a futile goal. Suburbs are not unchanging things, just as cities aren't; it's not impossible to change urban planning strategies to promote higher densities and better street systems to facilitate public transit.

In fact, it's going to have to happen whether we want it or not; commute times are stretching into hours, suburban neighbourhoods now have their own issues with low-income and disenfranchised residents, and there's simply fewer and fewer good places to put people that wouldn't put them horribly out of reach of the cities—and of the jobs and resources that come with them. NIMBYists will have to put up or shut up before too long, and if things like the proposed urban growth plan in Toronto and the new suburban public transit system here are any indication, it's already happening.

The solution cannot be based solely on alternative energy systems; that assumes the problem is only that we don't have the fuel to support all the cars we use, and completely disregards all the other problems that come with a car-centric society.
posted by chrominance at 11:07 AM on August 28, 2005


I live on the outskirts of one of the oldest cities in America, Raleigh, North Carolina. Aside from museums there is little reason to go into downtown. There are no good stores, movie theaters, or restaurants. For that you go to Durham or Chapel Hill or Cary.

I live in Garner, an economically depressed area that used to be very rural but is now one of the few affordable (homes under $100,000) bedroom communities for Raleigh. There are no sidewalks and very few pedestrian or biking friendly roads.* Recently we were thrilled to have a major shopping center put in but it turned out to be a very large strip mall with mainly chains such as Target and Dick's Sporting Goods all laid out in an emense parking lot and connected by circutous roundabouts. If you want to go from Dick's to Target, for example, you would have a good fifteen minute walk and you would have to walk in streets and cross a major highway without any pedestrian walkway or lights.

Still no bookstore. The nearest one is a 20 minute drive in Cary.

I compare this to when I lived in Upper Slaughter in the English Cotswolds. You could easily walk across the country to get to the other villages where small as they were (Stow on the Wold, Lower Slaughter, and Borton on the Water) they had libraries, cheese shops, green grocers, movie theaters, yarn shops, sweet shops, pubs, bakeries and so on. You could (back then-- I don't know if this is changed) live in the country but not be handicapped without a car.

*To be fair I should mention that the triangle area has a wealth of biking and hiking trails such as The Greenways, but they don't go anywhere. They are solely for exercise not for going to the store.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 11:15 AM on August 28, 2005


Beth: you are right and your memopry is correct! Trolley Museum not far from where I live and they show a documentary in which car/tire companies bought up tolley lines, then ripped out all the rails and overehead wires, forcing people to use cars and busses...the whole thing was investigated by DC and yes, the head people were fined one dollar each. The result: no trolley lines and increasingly a reliance upon the auto, till the auto became a way of life in the US.
posted by Postroad at 11:18 AM on August 28, 2005


Cities and suburbs aren't the places that will really be hosed if gas prices go crazy, rural areas will be. Our town is about 10 miles by 10 miles, and only has 10000 people. We have no public transport of any kind, and there is no concievable way any will ever be economical. Weather precludes bicycle riding at least 1/2 the year, and usually more, so that's no solution.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:22 AM on August 28, 2005


Have you ever been to Europe? Have you ever driven through those countries? The geography of Europe is totally different from that of the US and so are transportation needs.

It's quite common for us to drive 20 miles to work. Driving 20 miles to work is quite an anomaly in Europe. Most major population areas are, in general, not that big and have well developed public transportation systems. Also, everything is much closer. Heck, you can literally drive through 5 or 6 different nations (and thus peoples, languages, and cultures) in a single day. No one does that. At most, Europeans drive only a few miles each day in small, fuel efficient cars. That's why gasoline can be taxed so much in various European democratic countries. It does not affect people in the same way it affects them here. The modern US of A is a nation built around the internal combustion engine. People use gas powered vehicles to get to work, to get home, interstate transportation occurs daily for lots of citizens. Goods are transported mainly by trucks, etc. We don't really have a choice. Our nation's landmass is, areawise, greater than that of all the European countries put together. That's something to think about.
posted by enamon at 11:24 AM on August 28, 2005


Shepd: Comparing walmart with a single small store is a bad comparison, a better comparison is comparing walmart with a few dozen smaller stores. Since walmart is so big it must draw on a larger number of customers to function a larger number of customers would occupy a larger radius so on average customers would have to travel farther to a walmart than the nearest small shop. Basically if an area could have either 40 small stores or one giant store any resident of that area will have a shorter commute to the nearest small store than to the single optimally located giant store.
posted by I Foody at 11:29 AM on August 28, 2005


Every day while I'm walking, there are hundred of cars, each with one passenger in it.
At some point I think motorbikes are going to make a comeback e.g. this 1960's Honda gets 174 MPG!
posted by Lanark at 11:52 AM on August 28, 2005


> Driving 20 miles to work is quite an anomaly in Europe.

Yes and no. Most people I know drive that distance to go to work. Things tend to be a little more concentrated, but were modernization struck, increased driving distances ensued. Social problems plaguing big cities also drove people to live quieter place and rely on their car to go to work and shop. Don't forget vacations -- lots of them in Europe and people will drive a lot to escape their neighborhood for a couple days (an increasing number of people don't go anywhere these days, because of the expense. In France alone, 30% of the people stay at home during vacations because of their cost.)

It is to be noted that big taxation of gas in Europe was created as an incentive for the car industry to produce more efficient cars and for people to change their lifestyle. In France, gas is 70%+ tax.

As were proceeding with our relocation to France, we bought a car there because it was a necessity. We opted for a small diesel car that's fitted with a filter to curb soot emission. This thing will have great mileage and hopefully we'll keep it for a long time. I don't think we could have done without one -- between school and jobs, living in the inner city wouldn't have worked for us (you just don't put a 9 years old on a public transit system.)

Increased price of gas will change our lifestyle. It'll be interesting to see how. Businesses based on proximity might strive. Where I still live, I can walk to two small nearby shopping centers where I can get most of what I want -- it's great and it's the suburb.

We might be near the tipping point where we still think that there's a solution to our dependence on gas (like a good old fashion war.) But soon, I'm hopping, the market will evolve a solution (it's not my preference to let market take the lead here, but realistically, this is how it will start here in the US.)
posted by NewBornHippy at 12:05 PM on August 28, 2005


Driving 20 miles to work is quite an anomaly in Europe.

Um, no it isn't.
posted by Artw at 12:08 PM on August 28, 2005


Beth: you are right and your memopry is correct! Trolley Museum not far from where I live and they show a documentary in which car/tire companies bought up tolley lines, then ripped out all the rails and overehead wires, forcing people to use cars and busses...the whole thing was investigated by DC and yes, the head people were fined one dollar each. The result: no trolley lines and increasingly a reliance upon the auto, till the auto became a way of life in the US

I grew up in Minneapolis and that happened there as well. There was a vast trolley system that was completely ripped up and paved over by a corrupt mayer in early fifties. Now they're building a new light rail system that's taking a lot of time and millions and millions of dollars.
posted by supertremendus at 12:13 PM on August 28, 2005


ALso I think you're overstating the need of Americasn to drive from one side of the country to another as part of their regular lifestyle. With all the local speedlimits that's quite a long road trip.
posted by Artw at 12:14 PM on August 28, 2005


Driving 20 miles to work is quite an anomaly in Europe.
Here in the UK this was true up until about 10 years ago - the rise in house prices combined with relatively cheap petrol means more and more people are commuting long distances. (Petrol prices here have not kept up with inflation)
posted by Lanark at 12:23 PM on August 28, 2005


I would be delighted to pay $7/gal to commute in Holland, considering the pay for working is pretty good there, and if you get laid off there are effective safety nets (very much less of the happy, celebratory "you're fired," and "look, a hobosexual" crowd, to boot)

To pay that much to drive through a rural area to get from my mobile home to the wal mart so I can buy bulk frozen pork chops, hmm. Not really the same deal.
posted by nervousfritz at 12:30 PM on August 28, 2005


Britain once had the most wonderful rail system on earth, but for the last fifteen years or so has been shutting down rail lines and building roads like mad. The rails are privatized into a byzantine morass and uneconomic sections have suffered lost or radically diminished service. In the postwar U.S., our excuse was surplus manufacturing capacity, huge oil deposits and vast amounts of land. Britain has none of the above which makes it all the more baffling.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:37 PM on August 28, 2005


I don't want them telling me what I can and cannot buy

That argument would work if people weren't generally moronic, only concerned for their own desires and not the welfare of their neighbours (nevermind society as a whole). The fact is, if you allow people to do things that affect negatively others more than themselves (ie. driving a monster SUV that leaves a trail of smog behind for others to breathe) they will do it without any concern whatsoever.

So, -someone- has to give an incentive to make negatively impacting other people less attractive. It's either stick or carrot and stick doesn't work all that well. Carrot on the other hand is expensive and requires a centralized authority to create. The centralized authority must be funded appropriately (higher taxes), and that means either a little stick (higher tax on gas or on vehicles that consume inordinate amounts of fuel) or deficit, which negatively impacts everyone for the sins of the few.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:44 PM on August 28, 2005


Relay: Punishing people for driving cars doesn't really work to increase usage of mass transit. You can't push people into public transportation by making cars a terrible alternative, you have to make people WANT TO use public transportation because it's a BETTER alternative to driving yourself.

I agree with the second half of your statement, but not the first. People choose to use public transit in the same way they choose any other activity: based on its marginal economic cost. The reason so many people in North America choose to drive everywhere is that the cost of oil and the built infrastructure combine to make it an attractive choice. Whereas in Europe the lack of freeways and parking make such a lifestyle prohibitively expensive. If American cities started investing in busways and rail lines to the exclusion of roads (Reversing 50 years of the opposite policy), transit would actually start to be cost-competitive, and more people would choose it.

Ah, but votes follow money, and too much money is attached to the car-culture here, so I doubt it will happen anytime soon.

To wit: Widening highways to fight congestion is akin to loosening your belt to fight obesity.
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:49 PM on August 28, 2005


At some point I think motorbikes are going to make a comeback e.g. this 1960's Honda gets 174 MPG!
posted by Lanark at 11:52 AM PST on August 28 [!]


Where's the engine on that thing? That little vented thing hanging about the middle? I haven't even seen a lawn mower engine that small. Maybe a model airplane.

That said, I just bought my wife a brand new Scotts push mower.
posted by Balisong at 12:52 PM on August 28, 2005


I can't wait until everyone's forced to ride wild dogs.
posted by NationalKato at 12:54 PM on August 28, 2005


Man, those Europeans who drive will really be screwed when gas is actually expensive. Maybe the US will be up to $4 a gallon but then they'll be at $11.
posted by smackfu at 12:57 PM on August 28, 2005


We should all be driving these things.
posted by supertremendus at 3:47 PM on August 28, 2005


20 miles = 32.18688 kilometers = not at all unusual a commute in Europe. Sweden is the length of California and there it's quite common to commute say 40 odd miles from a nice house in the burbs to the job in the city around Stockholm. In fact, that was the length of my commute to junior high school for a few years. I took the train though.
posted by dabitch at 4:17 PM on August 28, 2005


Taking the bus isn't an option for some of us.
I drive an average of 60-100 piles a day, and cary about 1000 pounds of tools with me.



And if you took the reasoning a little farther maybe you would get to your job sites faster if a lot of the other people who don't carry tools...
posted by pwedza at 4:24 PM on August 28, 2005


were taking the bus
posted by pwedza at 4:24 PM on August 28, 2005


George Spigott:
Britain once had the most wonderful rail system on earth, but for the last fifteen years or so has been shutting down rail lines

Pardon?
posted by cillit bang at 4:40 PM on August 28, 2005


Pecinpah: your tires, too, I think. I believe most carpets are composed of a high percentage of petro-chemicals. Polystyrene, styrofoam cups. I'm guessing, but my belief is that most people, myself included, have no clue as to the extent of our addiction to these chemicals. To refer to the oil companies as simple pushers trivializes the degree to which they've managed to get us hooked on their junk.

This month's Harper's has a two-page spread inside the front cover from Chevron that basically says: we believe we'll be running out of oil in the foreseeable future and would like your help figuring out what to do about it. Which is, I think, hubris of the highest order, considering that they and their multi-national friends have been almost solely responsible for putting us all in this terrible situation in the first place. Obviously, their main concern is to remain profitable/keep their addicts coming back for more. Yay! that's us!

I was worried about in when tree-hugging, liberal kooks claimed we were running out of oil, but when Chevron says it, that's really scary.
posted by fartknocker at 4:57 PM on August 28, 2005


In the northern European countries, 20 miles is not a long distance. It's also cold in the winters, so a lot of oil goes to heating houses. The price of gas is high compared to the US, and of course there is some complaining from people in the rural areas. Still, people are used to it and do what they can to keep petrol costs down. Houses are typically well isolated. You get three-glass windows if you don't already have them to reduce the heating costs. It's getting quite common to install geothermal heating. I don't think people commute quite as much by car as you do in the US. Some people do, but many find the cost in time and money not worth it and move closer to their jobs instead.

As always, the "winner takes it all" US political system plays a role. Most European countries have more power anchored in the parliament, and almost all have a green party, if only represented by a few percent of the voters. Still, coalitions are often formed where a big party needs support from a smaller one. The green party says "sure, do as you please, but then we want gas taxed and public transit expanded", and gets it.

Since when is a free market considered government "pandering" to buyers and sellers?

Presuming you're American, your government panders to cars. In a strictly free global market, you should pay not only for the gas you use but the air you destroy for the rest of the world. The Kyoto protocol is partly about this, trade with the right to pollute. The US government has nos signed it since it would be disastrous for the national economy.
posted by springload at 5:42 PM on August 28, 2005


George Spigott:
Britain once had the most wonderful rail system on earth, but for the last fifteen years or so has been shutting down rail lines
.

This is so true, and awful. When I was visiting archives in the UK, I had to cycle to a town that is still the major market town for the area, all because the train doesn't go there anymore. There's a bus, but it only runs into the nearest city in the morning, and out again in the afternoon (whereas I was trying to go the other way - not possible).

Of course, if in the 19th century the town fathers hadn't decided that a railway exchange was unsightly, maybe they would still have service, like the tiny little place down the road that got stuck with the aforementioned exchange. Same thing happened to another market town I know - now it's fading away, and the one with the railway has grown.
posted by jb at 5:45 PM on August 28, 2005


Driving 20 miles to work is quite an anomaly in Europe.

Not in Ireland, since the house prices in Dublin started skyrocketing in 1994 . . . .
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:47 PM on August 28, 2005


Well, I may be wrong, but I'm not aware of any significant closures of railway lines (or stations) in the last 15 years. Which town are you talking about jb?
posted by cillit bang at 6:03 PM on August 28, 2005


I wonder what a year or two of $7-a-gallon gas is going to do to telecommuting in the States for those of us with broadband.
posted by alumshubby at 6:28 PM on August 28, 2005


shepd : "If you think housing prices are high now, wait until you see a mass exodus of people from both the country and the more 'burb part of the suburbs into the heart of the city.

"$1,000,000 a home is bad? Try $1 b. That's what it will be if what you're asking for happens."


I severely doubt that would be what happens. People will probably not all move into the heart of the city, they'll conglomerate in blobs around the rail stations outside the city. That is, some will move into the center of the city, some will move close to the train station north of the city, some will move close to the train station west of the city, etc.

I would be extremely surprised if everyone decided to live in the center of the city, or if housing prices jumped to $1b, considering that Tokyo has the highest population of any city in the world, and yet the average house price is somewhere nearish $700,000 or so.
posted by Bugbread at 7:59 PM on August 28, 2005


I can't wait for $5 to $10 dollar a gallon gas prices. That will finally bring some sense to the current gas guzzling situation. I understand the effects on the economy, and that is a shame. Too bad we couldn't have prepared earlier. We waited for the market to make us act, and now we will have to feel the market's pain.
posted by caddis at 8:21 PM on August 28, 2005


I can't wait for $5 to $10 dollar a gallon gas prices.

I can't really understand this line of reasoning. Yes, I wish people would stop wasting resources. Yes, I wish we had better public transit and better city planning. However, high gas prices are going to hurt a lot of people, especially the poor, and will just generally fuck us over badly. Is this want you want? I sense in this thread a real gloating over the rising price of gas by some posters which I just can't understand.
posted by gyc at 8:32 PM on August 28, 2005


I've always been disturbed by the speed with which retail prices reflect spot market changes, particularly on the upside.

There is a fundamental difference between historic cost and replacement cost. I seem to recall reading that it might take about sixty days for a barrel of oil to be processed into gasoline available at your pump.

But why are retail prices so damn volatile? I realise it's a form a profit maximising behabiour, but it's do damn obvious.
posted by Mutant at 8:59 AM PST on August 28


I'm not really surprised at the volitility; what concerns me is the speed at which the gouging occurs. If the exchange closes high, the gas prices reflect it within a day. If they close low, it will be weeks before you see a change.

Basically ir should work like this: Exchange closes high, and the next shipment a station receives reflects the higher prices, and thus the markup. Same in reverse when the price goes down.

In reality, it's exchange goes up, station gets a call from headquarters to raise prices immediately, even if they just got their refill from the tanker truck. The nearby locally-owned station sees the price hike, and adjusts their prices so that they're still competitive (maybe a penny lower).

Does anyone know how many gallons of gas one barrel oil can make?
posted by Balisong at 9:04 AM PST on August 28


It doesn't really answer your question, but I find this formula helpful: Divide the cost of a barrel on the exchange by 22. For instance, if the cost of one barrel is $60, the average price per gallon should be $2.727. This has been a pretty accurate formula to follow for me, because I live in a rural area. With the hurricane, I expect a barrel to be about $75, so next weekend I'll be paying about $3.409 per gallon. Public transportation isn't an optin out here, but i'm doing okay with my 30mpg Focus.
posted by schlaager at 8:50 PM on August 28, 2005


caddis, gyc, you're both right (IMO). While it would be better if the true cost of driving were reflected in its price, and that money spent on alternatives so people had a way of dealing with those higher prices, raising the price of gas alone isn't going to do anything but hurt poorer people. Perversely, in many places where fuel taxes are extremely high, people are still opting to drive. Sprawl, bad planning and job insecurity have a lot to do with that. You can try to be smart and live where you work, but a year later your job may have evaporated, the shops near your home closed because of the big box store, and in the end, all you can do is drive and somehow find a way to pay for it.

Oh, cillit bang, you're right. I was misled by anecdotal evidence. While rail service to marginal areas has become markedly worse, it hasn't generallly been characterized by an unusual number of out and out line closures.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:06 PM on August 28, 2005


I can't wait for $5 to $10 dollar a gallon gas prices.

I used to think that too, but then I saw that all it does is further distort our foreign policy and human rights record. Stupidity and greed always wins. We'd just exchange one set of problems for another. But freedom is on the march!
posted by intermod at 9:38 PM on August 28, 2005


I'm shocked, or at least suprised that people won't change they're driving habits. Instead, they change everything else.
posted by dial-tone at 11:06 PM on August 28, 2005


dial-tone : "I'm shocked, or at least suprised that people won't change they're driving habits. Instead, they change everything else."

I can't say I'm either shocked or surprised. After all, which is easier for your hypothetical driver: pay more at the pump, or go apartment hunting, pack up all your stuff, move, sign up for new utilities, change phone numbers, etc. etc.

(I base the above on my time living in a very vehicle-oriented city. Riding a bicycle to work would involve over an hour commute each direction, in 98℃ temperatures, unless I wanted to either work in Safeway or the liquor store. The nearest bus stop was also several miles away. For someone like that, I'm not surprised that, given the choice of changing job, changing house, or changing money spent at the pump, people would rather just pay more. I understand that in some cities, the changes demanded would be much less drastic, and as such, I would be surprised by their not changing their habits, but overall I can't say it's particularly surprising)
posted by Bugbread at 11:15 PM on August 28, 2005


bugbread: After all, which is easier for your hypothetical driver: pay more at the pump, or go apartment hunting, pack up all your stuff, move, sign up for new utilities, change phone numbers, etc. etc.

Which is why real changes will only come after two to five years of consistently high gas prices. If you're going to move anyway, and many people will do so over the next few years, you will take transportation into account. You will also buy a new vehicle, and it won't be some idiotic gas-guzzler. People who don't move will be more receptive to local public transportation projects and to having stores built near where they live. Twenty years of high gas prices could entirely change the living and driving habits of the US.

Younger people change residences more often than older people, so the changes will start with the young: apartment-hoppers, people buying first homes, people changing cities in search of jobs. Places that weren't so interesting to people when gas prices were low will suddenly look quite good, and places that require a long drive to do anything will start to look like stupid places to live.
posted by pracowity at 11:42 PM on August 28, 2005


Gas in Korea is about 1500won per litre, or about US$4.70 per gallon, apparently. Everyone looks at me like I'm dangerously insane when I tell them I don't have a car. And Korea's a tiny little shitdab of a country, where universal car ownership makes about as much sense as it does in Holland (other than the forcefed economic patriotism of keeping those chaebol car companies like Hyundai ticking over while quality of life erodes even further)

Goofy.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:47 PM on August 28, 2005


gyc: However, high gas prices are going to hurt a lot of people, especially the poor, and will just generally fuck us over badly.

Well, the real poor don't drive, they walk or take the bus.

And the part about oil prices driving the prices of everything else up doesn't have to be true, not if the largest part of the price of gas is, as in Europe, gasoline taxes and not the price of gasoline production. The highest taxes can (and should) be reserved for personal vehicular traffic, while other forms of transportation get their fuel at lower rates. No taxes on bus fuel. Give taxis a tax break at the pump and you will encourage people to use taxis when they really need a car and to walk at other times, rather than using their own car all the time. No fuel taxes at the pump for truck drivers moving food and other essentials.
posted by pracowity at 11:51 PM on August 28, 2005


Pracowity: I agree with your analysis of when and how the change will happen. My comment wasn't a defense, just an explanation of why I don't find people not changing their habits to be too surprising.
posted by Bugbread at 11:57 PM on August 28, 2005


stavros: Everyone looks at me like I'm dangerously insane when I tell them I don't have a car.

I get that, too. I ride the buses and trams (we purposely got a place near the bus and tram), while everyone I work with is a gadget-infatuated tech industry guy with that king of gadgets, a car, and they are all moving out into housing developments that are nowhere near the buses and trams.

But they're paying for car purchases, car repairs, gas, insurance, and parking, while I'm buying a monthly pass (about 40 US dollars) that is good for the entire bus and tram network all day, every day. Plus, they get angry on the way to work ("Asshole! Get off the road!") while I read a book. The money we save goes into fun stuff like riding horses. And when we do need door-to-door service every once in a while, using a taxi is a lot cheaper (maybe five bucks) and easier than owning a car. So I don't mind the "he must be nuts" looks. Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.
posted by pracowity at 12:19 AM on August 29, 2005


cillit bang - It's Wisbech, in Cambridgeshire. Not that big a place, compared to Cambridge or King's Lynn, but it was once the capitol of the Fens. I don't know when passenger trains were shut down (I was only there last year), but from talking to the local archivist I gathered it was in the last few decades. March is smaller, but still connected, as that's the location of a major exchange. (What is the right term? Stockyards?) So is Ely, because it's on the way to Peterborough. But Wisbech is right off. There are buses, but they mainly go to King's Lynn - it's hard to get there from Cambridge.

Basically, it's places like Wisbech that are being cut off - not the big places, but the smaller branch lines. In Lincolnshire, they have a very good rural bus system, but all I know is that to get to Wisbech from Cambridge (maybe a 45 min drive or less) in the morning, I had to take a train to March, and then ride my bike 11 miles or hope to catch the one bus that comes through three minutes after the train.

Now, I could never even have done this in Canada, so I'm still totally impressed at the British rural transit system. But it's still a shame to see the closed down stations.

I did manage to buy some pots for my fiance at the Wisbech Woolworths' (they shut down the one in Cambridge) and carry them back in my bike basket to March. Good, cheap shopping there.
posted by jb at 12:20 AM on August 29, 2005


According to this page it closed in 1966 as part of the Beeching Axe, which fortunately wasn't the beginning of a trend.
posted by cillit bang at 1:32 AM on August 29, 2005


"However, high gas prices are going to hurt a lot of people, especially the poor, and will just generally fuck us over badly."

"Well, the real poor don't drive, they walk or take the bus."


I am guessing he was reffering to things like heating costs, food prices, plastic prices, etc. Honestly though, the poor are probably better equipped to deal with the impending catastrophe than most people. They don't have nearly as far to fall.
posted by sophist at 1:45 AM on August 29, 2005


I am guessing he was reffering to things like heating costs...

Probably, but I think a lot of that could be minimized by using taxes appropriately. Costs that would rise with the cost of transporting goods could be controlled by reducing taxes on the fuel needed to transport those goods, and the taxes could be shifted to private transportation. For instance, they could use a vehicle's fuel efficiency to determine the taxes on its purchase.
posted by pracowity at 2:05 AM on August 29, 2005


good onya pracowity, plus you can have a bunch of guilt free drinks after work since you won't be driving home, and you never have to worry about parking!
posted by dabitch at 2:19 AM on August 29, 2005


North of the border gas has risen above $1 a litre and people complain like crazy, yet no one has a problem paying $1.50 or more for a litre of bottled water.
posted by dripdripdrop at 7:02 AM on August 29, 2005


"Well, the real poor don't drive, they walk or take the bus."

I'm not sure who you are calling "real poor" but there are lots of working poor who have no choice but to drive. Generally there are no jobs in the areas where they can afford to live and there are no trains or busses. Or if there are busses, they only run during the day which screws you if you have to work graveyard shift. I used to work in residential construction and knew lots of guys who were supporting a family on 14K - 20K a year and since they worked on rich folks houses out in the far suburbs for a "living" they had to drive. If you are only grossing $300 a week, gas cost rising from say $25 a week to $50 could be a crippling hit.

Here in Pittsburgh, many of the housing authority projects are located up on ridgetops in very inaccessable areas with no stores, schools or jobs nearby. There are busses but they don't run all the time don't go everywhere. Also most of the licenced taxi companies won't go up there so if you don't drive you have to rely on unlicenced 'jitney' drivers. So, yea there are many poor who have no choice but to drive or hire someone else to drive.
posted by octothorpe at 9:05 AM on August 29, 2005


In tune with the mood of the early 1960s, Harold Macmillan's Conservative government with pro-road transport minister Ernest Marples believed that the future of transport lay with roads, and that railways were a relic of the Victorian past with little future. Many people believe that Marples' view was not totally unconnected to his previous role as a director of a major road-construction company.

- from the wikipedia page on the Beeching Axe. Sounds pretty relevant to this thread.

My experience with the more recent privatisation has largely been the craziness of calling National Rail for schedules, and then having to call 2 or more companies to try to work out tickets. This is not at all fun, especially if you want to try anything unusual, like coming back from a different stop (even on the same line, and where you would have gone through anyways).
posted by jb at 9:42 AM on August 29, 2005


Yeah. Don't look for the automobile to go away anytime soon. Not even in 100 years. Barring the invention of a matter transporter or some serious Star Trek type shit. The car is simply far too practical. That is where the inovations will have to come. Alternate fuels and efficiency technology. Kiss the SUV goodbye. Thank god.

And I would say that as gas prices go up those cities without good mass-transit infrastructure now will likely NOT develop it as the costs will just be too high and cities can't secure bonds. Somebody mentioned Seattle. The canary in the coal mine.

We in Seattle have a ready-made lefty populace that SHOULD, idealy, embrace the mass-transit future - ours was a monorail system. However when it became appearant that the future was very expensive the population bailed. Now we are trillions in the hole and not one track has been laid. Nor will it.
posted by tkchrist at 9:42 AM on August 29, 2005


That said, the system is, of course, better than anything in North America. Except the TTC.
posted by jb at 9:42 AM on August 29, 2005


(sorry - that was about British Rail.)
posted by jb at 9:43 AM on August 29, 2005


Correction - the Wisbech passenger service from March (and thus the rest of the system) ended in 1968. The page you linked to was an isolated line between Wisbech and Upwell. This looks like a bit of a trend to me.
posted by jb at 9:48 AM on August 29, 2005


Well, the real poor don't drive, they walk or take the bus.

In the third world. Yes. But not in the US. Even the destitute have cars. Maybe for not much longer.
posted by tkchrist at 9:48 AM on August 29, 2005


tkchrist - Many destitute do not have cars. You have heard of homeless people, right? I live in the U.S., and I am far from destitute, but I could not afford to run a car. Insurance and gas aside, the car payments would be too much. I grew up in Canada, without a car. We were lucky - we had good bus service. But we still wouldn't have had had a car even if we lived in Mississauga (next suburb over, not very good bus service).

Poor people who do not own a car or sometimes even do not know how to drive (how do you learn without a car?) actively move themselves to where they can function - but that does restrict their job choices considerably. My mother had to turn down a number of good jobs when they moved out of the Toronto or off the few good Mississauga lines, because she could not get there.

There are some poor people with cars (largely in rural areas) - but a great many more without. Witness the 10,000 or more people sheltering in the Superdome in New Orleans - and also just how many are white versus those driving out of the city.

The news keeps saying "people who were unable or unwilling to leave" - but that is just whitewashing the reality: if those people were willing to leave their homes to wait in line to get into the stadium for hours (last people in at 10:30pm, well after the rains and wind had started), then clearly they would have been willing to drive out of town if they could have. But they did not have the means.
posted by jb at 9:57 AM on August 29, 2005


Also, if "even the destitute" own cars in the U.S., that doesn't explain the crowded Greyhound buses. Who would take Greyhound if they could drive?

(Well, my husband for one, because he hates driving and likes buses, but he is unusual. Even I prefer going in a car for long distances, and I'm about as pro-public transit as you can get.)
posted by jb at 10:00 AM on August 29, 2005


"We in Seattle have a ready-made lefty populace that SHOULD, idealy, embrace the mass-transit future"

Seattle has been TALKING about mass transit since the 1960's while the cost of building it (right of ways mainly) has slowly spiraled out of control. It may be too late and I will believe it when I see it.
posted by muppetboy at 10:01 AM on August 29, 2005


>That is, some will move into the center of the city, some will move close to the train station north of the city, some will move close to the train station west of the city, etc.

And cities like mine with one train station located in downtown?

In fact, AFAIK, that train station serves over 1/2 million people where I live.

Gonna be fun when the crap hits the fan, that's all I know...
posted by shepd at 11:08 AM on August 29, 2005


shepd : "And cities like mine with one train station located in downtown?"

Well, presumably either new train stations would be built, massive bus-stop park-n-rides would be built, or people would leave the city. These don't seem like incredibly likely possibilities, but they do seem more pretty much infinitely more likely than everyone paying 1 billion dollars for a house.
posted by Bugbread at 4:03 PM on August 29, 2005


"more pretty much infinitely more likely"
posted by Bugbread at 4:04 PM on August 29, 2005


From my second-hand experience with retail work, a fairly large percentage of minimum-to-slightly-above-minimum ($6-10 an hour) workers do not have a car (and most of those who dont have a car never did and do not know how to drive). Maybe not 50%, but certainly over 33%. And this includes Los Angeles, which is not a public transportation paradise [although it does have an extensive bus system which often gets overlooked]. Many of them get rides from other friends or family, take the bus, bike, etc. The % of their income they would have to spend on maintenance, insurance (or risk of no-insurance tickets), gas, etc was already too high even at $1-$1.50 a gallon gas.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:57 PM on August 29, 2005


Well, the real poor don't drive, they walk or take the bus.

One of the most convincing arguments I've heard for advocating public transit is this: It costs an average of $9000 / year to own and operate a car in the US . This is a huge burden that many of the many in our society, (the young, the old, the sick and the poor) cannot meet. By using public money to pay for road expansion, cities are taking money from the weakest members of society to enrich the lives of the fortunate.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:29 PM on August 29, 2005


I don't want [the government] telling me what I can and cannot buy

Yet the government already restricts or prohibits the sale of a lot of things, every day. Pharmaceuticals, narcotics, alcohol and tobacco (to minors), child pornography, uranium, migratory birds (and their eggs, parts and nests), certain firearms, mercury thermometers, toys with small parts intended for children under three....

Most people are just fine with most of these restrictions, 'cause it's for the public good and all. It's okay with me if we banned new passenger vehicles that got under 30 mpg. (I don't think that'd do enough to solve our energy problems).
posted by hydrophonic at 8:16 PM on August 29, 2005


Really, I forsee the whole change happening fairly quickly.
How many of you have cell phones? How many of you have cell phones exclusively?
I cancelled my land line (not an easy task.) a couple months ago, and switched to cell only, as my wife has her own. Why pay $35 (they just raised it) for a land line that only rings when it's a telemarketer trying to switch your long distance, or an Army recruiter looking for your wife?

Fuel will go the same way. Someone just needs to get on the ball, and shove something down our pie-holes that works, soon.

Anything, really.

I'm ready to jump ship and try something new.. Some blazing new company should hook on that.
posted by Balisong at 8:37 PM on August 29, 2005


Its harder than it looks.
posted by sophist at 12:13 AM on August 30, 2005


It's not just vehicles and fuel. It's a basic problem of getting a certain mass (you) from A to B to A. Change comes when people move to sensible places in terms of transportation. If your biggest piece of travel, day after day, week after week, is work, you move nearer to work or at least nearer to a more sensible way (train, tram, subway, bus, bike, boat, walking, etc.) to get to work.

If most people stay where they are, most people are staying with cars, and it just doesn't make sense, regardless of the type or amount of fuel used, to move a ton or two of steel 20 or 30 miles to get one person to work, leave that pile of steel empty in a downtown lot all day, and then reverse the route in the evening. If one person did this, it could be considered a harmless eccentricity, but when thousands of others insist on going the same route with their own one-person piles of steel, harmless becomes harmful.
posted by pracowity at 1:56 AM on August 30, 2005


There haven't been any significant rail line closures in Britain since the 1960s, as far as I am aware. These days, efforts (government-sponsored) to get people out of their cars and into public transport have been quite successful, to such an extent that the trains are very full and some companies are introducing peak hour supplement fares...

/lucky as I live in London and travel around Britain easily and frequently by train, probably spending no more than if I owned a car, which I don't.
posted by altolinguistic at 6:03 AM on August 30, 2005


And now they wish they had all the avoiding routes for freight and other services that Beeching cut.

There were some small cuts in the 80s. Near me, the 6-mile linking line from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge was closed for no apparent reason in 1986, increasing the journey time between Crowborough and Tunbridge Wells (the two main local centres) from 12 minutes direct to 2 hours via London. The Settle-Carlisle line was also under threat for some years, as were Exeter-Barnstaple and many other western branch lines.

I saw an old 1945 timetable the other day that showed steam trains running from Tunbridge Wells to Brighton direct in 45 minutes. Now, whizzy new electric trains do the journey in just 2 hours and 15 minutes, with changes at St Leonard's and Lewes. That's progress!
posted by athenian at 7:46 AM on September 2, 2005


It's amazing that no one seems to view today's gas crises in historical terms. Specifically, the crisis in the 70's that saw long lines at stations and odd and even days for buying gas. I live in the Atlanta area and empty gas stations and long lines are happening here already. The factors determining the causes for today's crisis versus 30 yrs. ago are different but the solutions will be similar and those fighting them refuse to learn from history.
The SUVs of the 70's were the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Eldorado, Lincoln, Ford LTD, etc and the muscle cars were all V-8s with a 350, minimum, under the hood. The last gas crises gave birth to Toyota, Nissan (then it was Datsun) and Honda and all the car ads touted MPG. That was the beginning of the end for US car companies.
But the SUV in the 90's brought them back from the dead and they, like the American consumer, conveniently forgot history and turned deaf ears to the enviromentalists and other experts who've been saying all along that the party would end. Now, instead of 30+ years of research and development and innovation, US car companies and the gov't have nothing to offer consumers and citizens when it comes to fuel conservation. No mass market hybrid vehicles, no alternative fuel technology (unless you consider coal an alternative fuel) and few incentives to create fuel efficient vehicles or buy them.
I'm glad the chickens have come home to roost because this country has had the lowest gas prices compared to other developed countries and it's about time we receive our comeuppance and are forced to stop whining about choices, etc. Everyone loves to claim that we're the greatest country but this crisis, together with the gov't hurricane relief efforts and the 9/11 tragedy are proving that the sun is about to set on the ideals of the founding fathers unless we stop voting with our pocketbooks and return the country to the citizens and take it away from the special interests.
posted by staydoc at 10:23 AM on September 10, 2005


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