Let's raise gas prices

There's an old saying that if Americans used public transportation at the same rate as Europeans (roughly 10% of total daily travel needs) the US would reduce its need for imported oil by more than 40% (at the current level of domestic production). Okay, it isn't that old, it is what the American Public Transportation Association says [LINK]. Being interested in public transportation, they also monitor how many people use it, and apparently people use it more when gas prices are high:
"With high gas prices in the third quarter of 2005, national transit ridership grew by 3.3 % from the same period in 2004, according to a report released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) today." [LINK]

And the increase is even more in big cities (even LA!).

So with higher gas prices people take public transportation more. That decreases teh number of cars on the road which makes driving more efficient for those who do it, but decreases the petroleum products use by Americans. That decreases our oil needs, and also decreases the CO2 emissions.

Raising gas prices, through an at-the-pump tax, would then decrease traffic, decrease dependence on foreign oil, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The money raised by the tax could be used for better public transportation, providing a positive feedback, since better transport will attract more riders, further reducing traffic, oil dependency, and ghg emissions. Why aren't we doing this?


renee said...

it's the availavility and quality of public transportation NOW that matters. People weigh in their heads 1) the increased transit time almost always imposed by taking public transport, vs. 2) the cost of gasoline. Gas would have to be pretty expensive before normal commuters are willing to get on a slow, overcrowded bus filled with smelly transients and crazy people.

The 3.3% who take the bus when gas prices are high, sadly, probably aren't as concerned with the environment as they are with their wallets. And while a tax on gas might push the next 3.3 percent over the edge, it's still not going to touch a majority of middle-class working Americans who will PAY so they can drive alone in the carpool lane!

From my neighborhood, it takes about 1.5 hours to travel by bus to work, a 20-minute trip by car. San Diego does have a trolley system, but it doesn't service the UCSD area. What can we do? It seems hopeless. If only every city had BART.

.brian said...

Renee is right that public transportation now is terrible, with a few obvious exceptions. NYC's subway works great, BART/MUNI in SF is pretty good, Seattle's bus system is pretty good (from my limited experiences), and I hear good things about Chicago's EL-trains. By far, most big cities, and all small cities, have inadequate transport for people trying not to drive.

However, if there were even a 3.3% increase (dominated by cities) in people using transportation -- whether they are doing it for financial or environmental reasons doesn't matter -- there would have to be a response by local governments. I would guess that as gas prices stay high in the very near future, that 3.3% will increase. It seems like a simple example of supply and demand. More people demand better transportation because it is a better alternative than paying to drive, and the local governments -- bolstered by increased revenues from increased ridership -- supply more and better public transportation.

It isn't fast, and it isn't enough, but it seems like there is a glimmer of hope here.

For cities that don't have reasonable transportation infrastructure already, it will be a longer and more expensive problem. Inertia is a terrible thing in these situations, but if there is demand, I do think that local governments will eventually give in and provide the services necessary.

alternatives fuels said...

Perhaps if employers or the gov't started offering incentives for using public transportation, maybe more people would consider it. I myself take a bus to work, but hate it. If parking wasn't so expensive in the city where I work (NYC), I would definitely drive to work as it would shorten my commute trmendously. But would gladly continue taking public transportation if there was some sort of tax incentive or similar incentive being offered.

renee said...

that's a great idea! But it would have to be a pretty hefty tax break before it would make a difference to people like me - I take the standard deduction because I don't own anything valuable. Most people who take public transport are probably in the same boat.

But if you told me someone would wash my laundry and mow my lawn once a week in exchange for me riding the bus instead of driving, I would seriously consider it.