An Unpopular Proposal

English: $4.06 Gas Prices, Lewiston, Maine, Cu...
English: $4.06 Gas Prices, Lewiston, Maine, Cumberland Farms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walking downtown, I noticed that gas prices are on the rise again — a few days ago they were around $2.63 a gallon, and now they’re around $2.75. (I’m sure our European readers are weeping in sympathy for us.) While they’re still not above the $3.00 mark, I expect to start hearing the outrage shortly.

Perhaps, however, gas prices aren’t high enough. In Europe, gas prices are much higher — in most of the non-oil-producing world, in fact[1]. And that’s due to the American government subsidizing gasoline prices so its citizens won’t have to pay prices similar to Europe’s. Maybe our government shouldn’t, though. Or, at least, not for everybody.

This is where I’m not gonna make friends, I think. But my idea is to only offer subsidies to public transportation (and perhaps trucking companies and similar businesses, and perhaps in rural areas as well where public transit doesn’t make sense) and then funnel the money that we’re using for the bulk of the subsidy to public transit agencies around the country.

The main problem I can see is one of the problems that Seattle’s hit against several times — pushing people to use something where the infrastructure doesn’t yet exist, and in the same realm no less. For instance, there has been much in the way of lowering the amount of parking spaces, in order to encourage people to take the bus… yet the Metro system, as it is, isn’t sufficent for this to work; there aren’t enough buses and routes to get many places that don’t involve the heart of downtown to make this efficient. So, instead, everyone still drives, and complains about the impossiblity of parking. The alternative doesn’t exist yet — and since no one is using that alternative, folks are reluctant to fund it. It’s a catch-22. So, perhaps, we can initially earmark funds to go to this sort of thing from a Federal level, to be paid back from the future cutting of the gas subsidy.

Assuming that such a thing would work — which, rest assured, would most likely not get even past being laughed out of the lowest levels of government — we’d be in a much better position both economically and environmentally. Public transit would be improved (I point to New York as an example of how public transit CAN be — on my first trip, I was surprised that, given my experiences with Seattle transit, I could actually get places on the subway easily and quickly), encouraging people to use it more — particularly since it’d be MUCH cheaper than driving anywhere. And, we’d also begin to see an increase in alternative transportation — from the lower level (more bicycles) to the higher level (more, and more efficient, electric cars and hybrids); the latter having the side effect of helping out in the cases of rural communities and the shipping industries as well. And, finally, the suburbs would become less efficient as well, increasing urban density — which is traditionally much more environmentally sound as well.

If this all happened, of course, down the line, we’d have the problem of what to do when gas sales fell far — and perhaps even went away completely, given the move to alternative fuels — the gas subsidy need might fall away as well, making it difficult to justify to the public the continued need for support for the public transit systems. After all, maintenence is always a hard sell; it’s easier to show off the great new thing that you can get, than to explain why you’re spending money keeping the great, now old, thing running at peak performance. Budgets are tricky beasts anyway, and people often look for things to cut when they can, and when they may not see an immediate need.

But, well, that’s kind of too long range, particularly for something that’d probably never get off the ground in the first place.

[1] I saw an email forward that was irate over a picture that showed a Middle Eastern gentleman filling his gas tank with greatly discounted gasoline — the idea being that this was PROOF gas prices were over-inflated and just a con game to try to squeeze more money out of hard-working Americans. It doesn’t take into consideration, however, that the opposite would be true — if the man were paying prices comparable to OURS, it’d mean that prices were a con. What the email forward doesn’t take into consideration is that there’s not only the cost of the good itself, but in transferring it from the source over here — which is not free, of course. Drums, barges and trucks must be paid for — including, ironically, the fuel for the vehicles themselves. So, with less travel involved, of course gas in the Middle East will be much cheaper.?

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