I’m really, really glad I only have one car to pump gas into.
Bush is headed out to Saudi Arabia to beg King Abdullah to reduce oil prices because the US economy is suffering. What makes him think Abdullah — or any of the sheiks or princes, for that matter — is going to give a flying dog turd what’s happening in the US? These guys live in ultimate luxury, surrounded by yachts and Rolls Royces, while right across the street their own people live in abject squalor. If they’re more interested in pouring their own money into making the Burj Dubai higher and higher than they are in improving their own country, they sure as hell aren’t going to sweat US unemployment rates or the mortgage crisis.
Meanwhile, a Congressional commission wants to increase gasoline taxes to pay for our aging highway infrastructure, including crumbling bridges. So while Bush is off pissing up a rope, Congress has a panel asking them to make things even worse.
Increasing the tax by 40 cents across five years doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but think about that for a minute: gas down the street from me was $3.07 per gallon last I checked. That means in five years it will be a minimum of $3.47, or a 13% increase. That, of course, is without inflation, speculation, conditions in the Middle East, etc., etc., etc., not pushing the per-barrel pricing up from where it is now (and it seems like every month it’s breaking record highs.
The article also discusses putting money into the rail infrastructure. That too makes a certain amount of sense, but it’s really only practical for people living in the city and the suburbs. While I was unemployed in 2005, I was exploring several job opportunities in downtown Chicago because I could jump on Metra for a reasonable rate; even if it did cost me a little more than gas, it saved time, frustration and wear & tear on the car. I could even have called it a bonus by bringing along a laptop to get some writing done.
But out here in the boonies, we’re not so lucky. Let’s say I want to visit Cullen Bunn in St Louis this weekend. If I drive, it would cost me about $52 in gas. If I take the Amtrak, it would only cost me $36 round trip. However, I would need a ride to the train station about 30 miles away. If my wife drops me off and picks me up with our van, that’s 120 miles for two round trips, which works out to a little under $20 in gas. We break even financially, and even the convenience of writing on the train ride is negated by having to arrange rides on both sides of the trip. (Incidentally, if I bring the whole family, the train ticket price jumps to $90 plus probably parking costs, making the van the clear winner in that scenario.)
Unless the ticket prices get more attractive than gas prices, people (out here) aren’t going to see an advantage in train travel. Even putting ticket pricing aside, we don’t have rail access like the city does. I was once chided by a city dweller for not using my bike or public transportation for day trips. He just couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that I lived in the middle of a cornfield and we have no train stations, and a five-minute bike ride isn’t going to get me past the cornfield, much less into the city. Building the infrastructure out to us would cost a fortune, which would in turn raise ticket prices, making the train even less an incentive than before.
The car companies tease us with electric cars, but they tell us they don’t make them because we don’t buy them. How can we buy what’s not there? Not to mention we just shift our spending from gas to the electric bill. That’s the whole reason I got my motorcycle license last summer: between better mileage and the availability of affordable bikes, they’re cheaper all around to operate (presuming I don’t get my ass run over riding it).
I guess the short answer is solving this problem is going to take some innovative thinking. (Or maybe Jimmy Carter has what we need.)
Unfortunately that’s something our government representatives have in very short supply.