Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Now Here's an Idea

You know those pesky chain emails you get sometimes? You know how they go. They tell you they've got this really great way for you to save on gas and stick it to the oil companies at the same time. All you have to do is get all your friends not to buy gas on a particular day.

The theory, so the email says, is that if there is a sudden drop in demand, prices will fall. And while this concept is economically sound on the surface, the hypothesis breaks down if you still drive the same amount on the given day. You see, the problem with this proposal is that people just buy twice as much gas the next day, which drives prices back up (if they went down in the first place, which is unlikely anyway).

Unfortunately, demand is not really decreasing. Demand for gasoline only really goes down if you, well, don't demand it. It's not about how much you buy at each trip to the gas station or how many times you go to the gas station, it's the total volume of consumption that really matters.

So that brings us to the idea that should work: Dump the Pump.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA), is hosting this annual event for the third time on Thursday. It encourages Americans to beat high gas prices the only way they can: by not purchasing gasoline. Locally, WMATA is giving away a $100 SmarTrip card to the rider who can guess the number of riders who will use the system on June 19.

Nationally transit ridership is up, up, up. This is certainly a good thing, but local officials are quickly realizing that their policies have not funded transit enough in the past. Now demand for space on the train and bus is increasing faster than the supply of space can. Even here in Washington where it already seems like everyone takes the Metro, even more people are crowding on.

Some transit officials at WMATA are suggesting that Washington might need to go to mandatory staggered work schedules, reports Planetizen. It seems like trains are going to be so crowded with $5 gas that they will literally be in danger of exploding and spewing commuters all over the nice station architecture.

Ok, so maybe the Metro isn't that bad, but if $5 gas is going to be bad, how are we going to cope when it gets even higher? Can we even cope? I don't know if $5 gas is one of the signs of the apocalypse, but Sonny Perdue, Governor of Georgia, supporting transit expansion is. And that's just what he did shortly before pigs were seen flying near Jonesboro last week.

That's right, Mr. Perdue, who has been doing as much as possible to ignore the problem since he was elected in 2002 as Georgia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction (1872), has agreed to the idea, saying that he "fully supports" the commuter rail line to Lovejoy, south of Atlanta. And why is this so shocking? Because the federal government had already earmarked some $87 million in funding, along with $106 million in programmed state DOT funding. The only component missing was operating expenses (more info). But the state chose not to build. Repeatedly.

So instead of having the foresight to build a commuter rail line five years ago, when he took office, Mr. Perdue waited until the project was urgently needed to throw his support behind it. Now it will take some time to prepare the project for operation, meaning that gas might be nearer $6 a gallon by the time the train pulls into the station. And while I applaud the governor's decision to get on board, he (and many other politicians around the country) need to be chided for waiting until a crisis occurred before taking action.

So the long and short of it is that we commuters may have to deal with standing room only for now. Transit fixes take time to work out. We can't afford to wait any longer to start addressing these problems. We need action from our elected officials, and that action has to start with you, dear reader. Write your elected officials. Tell them how you feel.

And tell them to dump the pump on Thursday.


Eric said...

Hear, hear!

Batman said...

Unfortunately, delayed construction is the nature of the beast. Highways seem to spring across the landscape with sprawl following them, yet mass transit is reserved until all highway options are too congested to function(when the density they are meant to encourage already partially exists). Perhaps higher gas prices will finally convince US Governments to be far more pro-active in rail-planning (say, like the UK).