Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gas Prices

Well, the high Bush-induced gasoline prices that we've all enjoyed over the past few years are plummeting in recent months. My local Arco clocks in at $1.61/gal. I filled up the other day (not at Arco, I'm boycotting them for personal reasons) and got change back from a twenty. Most Southern Californians are jumping for joy, but I'm not quite as excited.

According to the RTA, ridership has been experiencing record growth never before seen by the agency, in the 30 years that it's been running. You can blame most of that on the $4/gallon gas prices that had people fleeing from their Suburban Assault Vehicles in droves. Similar reasoning explains the growth in efficient cars (and the imminent failure of the Big Three), growth in carpooling, the approval of Proposition 1A (WOO!), and other developments that this author has been very, very happy about. Forcing Americans to actually start reckoning the cost that their transportation choices takes out on them is a Good Thing, and while most of that going into oil company profit isn't exactly a great outcome, at least it was a start. It got people thinking about alternative transportation. It got people TAKING alternative transportation. It got people off the damned freeways.

And now the gas prices are going down. Guess what else is going to go down? That's right, ridership. And with the State contemplating cutting ALL transit funding, and sales tax revenue in the proverbial crapper, this leaves local transit agencies stuck with huge cost burdens. RTD in Sacramento was apparently considering cutting ALL weekend service. RTA has already slashed weekend service in Moreno Valley and other outlying areas (due to go in effect in January). If the new, cheap gas puts people back in their car, this will only further hurt transit agencies around the state, and only hurt our cause. People are always surprised at me, but I honestly wish the gas prices went back up to $3 or $4 a gallon. It's the only thing that'll get us out of our cars.

In fact, were I king for a day, the first policy I'd institute would be a tax on gasoline, of at least $1/gallon. It wouldn't apply to diesel fuel or commercial vehicles, so it would only affect personal transportation choices. Every dime of that tax would then become a dedicated funding source for public transit.
I would then be promptly lynched by a mob of angry Americans.

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