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Zoethe

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Addiction [Nov. 9th, 2005|11:41 am]
Zoethe
[Current Mood |crankymilitant]

The other evening Ferrett and I walked to the grocery store. On the way back, we passed a gas station. The price for regular was $2.17.

"Gas prices are down," I observed.

"Yeah," he agreed.

"Bummer."

"I know."

This is not a viewpoint that is likely to make me popular with many people here. But as far as I'm concerned, it's a crying shame that gas in the US didn't climb well past $3/gallon and stay there. For all the crying about how we need to conserve fuel and change our consumptive ways, Americans are driving more than ever. Only one thing is going to change that: a serious dent in our pocketbooks.

When my car caught fire a few weeks ago and had to be in the shop, it served as an impetus for really exploring alternative transportation. When school's not in session I try to take the bus on the days when I'm not biking, but I always told myself that taking the bus after classes would be too time consuming and difficult. I was wrong. I'm now into my fourth week of riding the bus daily. I use the time for reading and the occasional nap. Going in is actually quicker than driving and parking, and going home only takes an extra 20 minutes. I've finished The Historian and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell and am well on my way through Son of a Witch, the sequel to Wicked. It takes a little longer, but lets me multitask, and I am saving a minimum of $2 in gas plus $5.25 in parking every day.

I know that for a lot of people driving is not an optional activity. They live in areas poorly served or completely unserved by public transportation and where alternatives such as biking are not viable, either because of distance or because of hazard. But the sad fact is that as long as driving remains a viable alternative, the expansion of public transportation will be hampered. And we will keep on polluting the air and congesting the roads and consuming fuel at a staggering rate until there is enough demand for alternatives that soemthing actually gets done about it. We are not a people known for our foresight anymore. We don't build for the future. We build for present need, which means there must be pain - in the form of staggering gas prices - before we get serious about the bandaid. Driving decreased dramatically for that one week after Katrina when prices were through the roof - we know; we paid the price because Ferrett had to drive back to Connecticut for a funeral on that very weekend. The roards were empty, according to him, even though it was a holiday weekend. The buses here in Cleveland were also full, as people thought twice about turning over the ignition.

But we Americans, we aren't any better about our gas gluttony than we are about our food gluttony. Yeah, there was a chest pain there, and for a minute heart failure seemed imminent, but after that initial scare, we're like old athletes: "I can walk it off!"

The world is not running out of oil yet. What it is running out of is cheap, easily extracted, high quality oil. If we don't start working on alternative forms of transportation, transportation is going to eat our economy alive. It's like those old oil change ads: "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later."
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[User Picture]From: irishjeeper
2005-11-09 04:50 pm (UTC)
*clap clap clap* Nicely stated! Even though I'm only 5 miles at most from work, there is no bus to pass by me, plus trying to ride my bike in Erie, PA in the winter wouldn't work. However this coming spring and summer, on the nice days, I'm game for riding my bike into work. What do I have to lose? A few extra pounds? Sure why not!
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[User Picture]From: kenshi
2005-11-09 04:50 pm (UTC)
Not that I'm criticizing or anything, but I find that when my political or other beliefs force me to wish for the misfortune of others, those beliefs are almost always universally wrong.

I'm glad to see gas prices coming back down. It's further proof that it's no longer a teneble strategy for the oil-poducing nations to wage covert economic war on the US via supply manipulation.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-11-09 04:54 pm (UTC)
So we just blindly drive until we can't? What are you offering as an alternative?
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[User Picture]From: on_reserve
2005-11-09 04:51 pm (UTC)
Near me it's down to $1.99.

I share your sentiment for the most part. It's just ... I wish (and I know this is only a wish) that people could be motivated by something other than money.

For example, I take the train to work every day. I really only use my car on weekends and even then it's just to the next town or two over to see family or go grocery shopping, etc.

I feel like it's not fair that I, a responsible petrol user, should have to pay these high prices since I'm already being responsible with my petrol use regardless of the price of gas. I feel like I should be able to show my subway pass at the pump and get a discount.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-11-09 04:57 pm (UTC)
We are fortunate to be located where we can walk to a lot of places, and we try to do so now much more than we used to. Ferrett walks the mile to the grocery store probably 3 times a week, maybe more.

But when snow comes and they don't clear the sidewalks, we will be forced to drive it. Which is a shame.

Personally, I wish that we could find a way to reduce individual consumer consumption without raising prices, because the high prices will impact goods such as groceries as well. But if gas is cheap, people will drive.
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[User Picture]From: trianakvetch
2005-11-09 04:51 pm (UTC)
i would agree wholeheartedly with you...but I can't.

My job requires me to drive. I work in the social services field and i have to visit families on a frequent basis (ie: once or twice a day every day of the week). While I live in Chicago, a city with an *amazing* public transport system, trains and buses aren't an option to me. So I find myself filling my tank weekly, scouting for the lowest prices (which in Chicago are about $2.50/gallon). When the prices were over $3 it was a pain in my pocketbook, but even worse pain knowing there was nothing I could do about it if I wanted to keep my job.

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-11-09 04:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, and it's unfortunate and unfair for people like you. I totally agree with that. I wish that the better alternatives could be purchased at a price other than your pocketbook.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-11-09 04:51 pm (UTC)
"Hey, I have an idea. Let's screw the poor to make a point!"

"Excellent idea!"
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[User Picture]From: trianakvetch
2005-11-09 04:54 pm (UTC)
if you disagree with her you can just say it without being sarcastic...being rude, and anonymous, doesn't do much for your stance.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-11-09 05:01 pm (UTC)
Exactly.
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[User Picture]From: on_reserve
2005-11-09 04:56 pm (UTC)
I'm also thinking about poorer people in cities with no great public transport. Under your scheme, you're glad that they can't afford food or clothes or other necessities so that the gas price rises high enough so that upper-middle class people with SUVs have to start thinking about their consumption.

By the time the price rises high enough for these folks to notice, many working-class people are already bearing too much of the burden.

So, on second though, I think it's rather classist to be boasting about the rising cost of what is very much a necessity for many of this country's working poor. I think your analysis is kind of bourgeois in it's approach. So long as you, a middle-class, white, urban/suburban person with a decent job is not unduly inconvenienced, then it's a good idea. Seems a narrow persepctive. Kind of like your post the other day about self-selecting communities.

It's never the rich people who pay. It's never the rich people who bear the burden of social change.
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[User Picture]From: the_siobhan
2005-11-09 05:04 pm (UTC)
Tax the hell out of it and use the money to fund decent affordable public transit.

Move back to transporting goods by rail.

Tax larger vehicles and use the money to subsidize energy-efficient ones.

Because when the oil starts to run out, the poor are going to get screwed anyway.
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[User Picture]From: supremegoddess1
2005-11-09 04:57 pm (UTC)
Although I must admit I personally wince at the price of gas (23 miles one way to my main job, 60 miles one way to my part-time job, and I live in a land more populated by deer and horses than people, ergo no public transportation), I personally agree that we don't pay nearly enough for gas.

I've been overseas a number of times, and even though we moan now about gas costs, even now our prices are less than half of the prices in most other nations. When gas costs money, we think about how we use it. When it's cheap and readily available, we take it for granted.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-11-09 05:02 pm (UTC)
I applaud you for your selflessness. Fewer gas-guzzlers, and more extremely efficient vehicles, would even make your life easier.
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[User Picture]From: tevriel
2005-11-09 05:00 pm (UTC)
In Australia, we pay more for petrol than you do, but when prices are high, people don't drive less. It doesn't surprise me, because most people do the same maths my Dad did the other day: factor in petrol costs versus public transport prices, and it's *still* cheaper for him and my mother to drive to work and back, and less hassle. It costs $3.90 each way for them - and we live twenty minutes out of the city centre, by train.

Me, I ride to work because I wouldn't want to be coming home by public transport at 10pm, and it's cheaper for me too - but then, my motorcycle gets 30km/litre.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-11-09 05:03 pm (UTC)
That's bad economics!
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From: stevietee
2005-11-09 05:03 pm (UTC)
Gas prices are only down so that the oil executives currently under fire before Congress can plead innocent to price gouging on natural gas this winter.
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[User Picture]From: rachel_renee
2005-11-09 07:34 pm (UTC)
Natural gas and oil are two VERY different products and are not even drilled in the same places. "Oil" companies have nothing to do with natural gas prices. "Energy" companies do that. - Just a clarification.
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[User Picture]From: theonlykow
2005-11-09 05:03 pm (UTC)
I used to walk, run and bike my way everywhere when I lived in California - my elementary school was about a five minute walk away, my junior high was a bus ride away and my high school was about a ten minute bike ride - but now that I'm out in Colorado and in college it's become nearly impossible. There's no bus service between my school and my town. I would have to take a clean air shuttle (free) to a FREX stop (upwards of 5 bucks) to get to the light rail station (something like 6 bucks) to get me five highway exits from my school, where I would then have to walk about 10 miles to get to school. On the highway. It's pandemonium. We have the clean air shuttle in town, which is nice, except it doesn't go anywhere near my place of work, and it's either drive or, again, ride a few exits south on the highway at 10pm every night. Not happening.

I wish I could do more, but it's far more expensive and timeconsuming for me to make use of the ridiculous amount of public transportation calamaties here than to drive. The light rail system will supposedly be down to Park Meadows by 2007, so I could in theory take the bus there and then take the light rail to Denver (yay!). Also supposedly, it will be to my town by 2017. If I was planning on still being here, I'd be happy.

I grew up in the bay area with BART. We never drove any significant distances unless it was specifically deemed a roadtrip, haha.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-11-09 05:05 pm (UTC)
This is precisely the kind of problem that needs solving, but as long as gas is relatively cheap, it ain't gonna happen.
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[User Picture]From: geekninja
2005-11-09 05:07 pm (UTC)
Oh god, I so agree with you.

You don't hear about the hybrid cars or fuel effeciency from the auto companies anymore, now that gas prices are dropping again.

I'm looking at the possibility of moving out of my downtown apartment (I also work downtown so I can walk to work) into something more affordable. I will either take the bus or the train to work, but I will need a car to go to the grocery store. If I do, it will be very fuel effecient.

But yeah, if it's not "hurting" John and Jane American, nothing will change - and that is sad.
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[User Picture]From: tevriel
2005-11-09 05:16 pm (UTC)
When I buy a car, I want a hybrid car.

Right now I couldn't afford one, unfortunately, but hey. People could also take up using two-wheeled transport, motorised and non, because even two-wheeled vehicles with engines use vastly less fuel than cars do.

It tends to bug me when I'm in the midst of heavy traffic and I look at just how many vehicles have exactly one occupant.
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[User Picture]From: butterandjelly
2005-11-09 05:07 pm (UTC)
I considered switching to biking when I got this new job, as it's only 4.5 miles away from my house. A few minor sticking points:
1. It's almost all hills.
2. There isn't a good way to go that has sidewalks, so I'd have to ride on the road, which is scary.
3. I don't have a bike.
4. My workplace doesn't have facilities for changing and cleaning up(other than bathrooms) and I don't think they provide bike racks either.

The third is easily resolved and I'm sure the first would be ok once I got used to it. I'm not sure how to combat the others. Any ideas?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-11-09 05:11 pm (UTC)

Just FYI

You should ALWAYS ride on the road. I ride on the road everywhere I go. It's much safer, actually, once you get used to it.

I don't have changing facilities at work, I just change in the bathroom.

The hills are a bit more daunting!
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From: appleblossomtru
2005-11-09 05:20 pm (UTC)
We Americans are spoiled rotten. Period. I sometimes post at a UK-based message board, and I cringe when I see Americans posting and whining about what we pay for gas. I'm sure people in Europe and the UK have very little sympathy for us, and I don't blame them. *sigh*
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[User Picture]From: kibbles
2005-11-09 05:24 pm (UTC)
They don't have to drive nearly as much, do they? Everything is close together, and the cities have decent transportation that match their schedules, and I dont know if there are a lot of people in suburbs that need to drive to work like we do here.

My husband has a 90 minute commute each way, some days. I think that may be unheard of overseas.
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From: ladytabitha
2005-11-09 05:21 pm (UTC)

Yet another "We can't not drive!" comment.

I can not drive (space intentional), and often don't.  I walk or ride my bike, or carpool if it involves work.  B can't, not really, because he's a freelance lighting tech - part of it is carrying equipment, and part of it is travelling all over the damn place, oftentimes to places that aren't at subway stops.

I can understand the desire for more subway stops (and bus routes and commuter rail things and stuff), but it does take a while, and in the interim, few people think of things like walking or biking as viable transit alternatives.  (Especially not 15mi/day!  *proud of self*)
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From: ladytabitha
2005-11-09 05:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Yet another "We can't not drive!" comment.

Also:

* When I get to where I can afford a new car (ha), totally getting a hybrid.

* I sorely want a motorcycle.  B has a car so it's not like we won't have a passenger-bearing vehicle, plus it's a lot less expensive gas-wise.
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[User Picture]From: kibbles
2005-11-09 05:22 pm (UTC)
If the high prices only had to do with cars, fine -- but unfortunately the high prices have an impact on public transportation (not all busses use natural gas), on commerce, on business, raising prices across the board.

I don't HAVE a car but I don't want to see high gas prices, because that is going to keep kicking me in the gut in just about every aspect of my economic life.
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[User Picture]From: fyarr
2005-11-09 05:23 pm (UTC)
I'm in a catch 22 with this, myself. I work at a great job, same job that I've had for 4 years now, but due to general cost of living and conditions in the area that I work, I had very little option then to move 30 minutes away, where property and housing was less expensive.

Out here in "the middle of nowhere" there is a very minimal, bare bones transportation system in place. The sad thing is it transits the wrong way, and I would have to drive to even get to it. Walking or biking isn't an option, taking the crummy NE Ohio weather into consideration, as well as the fact that all the roads are either in due need of replacement or just not pedestrian friendly.

I would LOVE to have an alternative.. I hate being dependant on driving and gas to get from point A to point B. I enjoy a nice drive every now and then, but if there was an alternative that would get me to work and back every day, you'd better believe that I'd take it.

Unfortunatly, I'm a slave to necessity.. had to move to afford a home, have to continue to commute to make the money to afford that home. Damn the man.
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[User Picture]From: kibbles
2005-11-09 05:29 pm (UTC)
We're going to need a car when we move out of NYC, which has amazing public transportation but is way too expensive for the working class to live in.

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[User Picture]From: weirman
2005-11-09 05:36 pm (UTC)
I'm of mixed minds, myself.

I agree that public transportation should be more readily available and cheaper. I agree that people should be using more alternative methods for going to work and school.

I don't agree that raising the gas prices is the way to do it. I also don't agree that comparing our environment to the european one when talking about gas is fair either. Europe in general is much more public transportation friendly than the US, and the cost of petrol tends to provide more societal benefits than the increases here.

It doesn't matter how expensive gas gets, if a wealthy exec is going to spend $65,000 for a Hummer he isn't going to stop driving it. SUV sales have not been declining that substantially as gas prices increase. Car sales are going down, yes, but there hasn't been a substantial shift from gas-guzzlers to economy purchases.

In fact, what's been happening with the increase in gas prices is that more economical vehicles like hybrid cars are becoming more expensive and more difficult for lower income people to purchase. I would have had one years ago if it wasn't more expensive to buy a hybrid than it is to pay the extra money for gas (yes, even now).

Not only that, but I've noticed in my own area that public transportation costs actually have been increasing with the rise of gasoline. So everybody is getting screwed over.

And finally, in the United States where we have so much land and so many people who aren't living in an urban society, public transportation, while a great thing for urban lifestyles, is never going to be as efficient. Not unless we continue to make it more difficult to live in rural areas and force more people to live in urban ones, which in my mind would do more to hurt our country and the people who live in it than keeping the gas prices low.

Side note: Admittedly, my comments are biased by the area in which I live. Statistics like SUV purchases are likely different elsewhere.
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[User Picture]From: spooke
2005-11-09 06:15 pm (UTC)
There should be tax breaks or subsidies for using the public transportation, and higher taxes on buying vehicles that aren't eco-friendly; that would uncourage more people. Some sort of government-sponsored public award with cash each year to the company that had the best eco-car on the market might not be a bad idea; it would generate publicity that would make it worth their while.
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[User Picture]From: lubedpumpkin
2005-11-09 05:38 pm (UTC)
I wish I had the option to take public transportation.. but, living in a rural area for college doesn't really afford that. I walk to campus, at least. :)

At home on Long Island the problem lies in my job being right off the major highway. There's no bus stop for it, unfortunately. There is a shuttle from the train station.. but I'd still be driving half the way. I'm carpooling with my mom this summer since she works at a firm an exit away so we can conserve gas $ and I dont have to keep the insurance on my car.

I think for some people its also an issue of having the money up front for public transportation. Gas can be charged and/or bought once a week. Lots of the poorer public transportation systems may not have monthly passes, or people may not have the ability to drop $230/month on a train pass in one shot.
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[User Picture]From: scathedobsidian
2005-11-09 05:41 pm (UTC)
This was a damned fine writing.
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[User Picture]From: kmg_365
2005-11-09 05:42 pm (UTC)
But as far as I'm concerned, it's a crying shame that gas in the US didn't climb well past $3/gallon and stay there.

Want to know how cynical I've become? The cynic in me says that the oil companies wanted to charge $x for a gallon of regular unleaded. So they raise the prices well above $x, so that when the prices do fall to $x, we look at it and think "hey, that's cheap!"

Instead of "holy s, gas is $x per gallon?!"

I told you I'm cynical ;)
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[User Picture]From: moropus
2005-11-10 12:05 am (UTC)
That's exactly what I think.
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From: ewtikins
2005-11-09 05:43 pm (UTC)
The public transport thing is one of those difficult chicken-and-egg situations. People won't use public transport if it isn't there, but if people won't use it then there's no money to fund it. You can't really get something for nothing, and people don't like paying taxes for something they don't think they need. It's hard enough to get them to pay taxes for the things they do need.

In London, parking costs stupid amounts, and there is the daily congestion charge for driving into central London, and there are still people who find it cheaper to commute by car than by train. Part of this is because the trains have been managed extremely badly, and part of it is because at peak times, trains are expensive too. The congestion charge has helped, but now the retailers are whining about it - which is a bit ridiculous, really, as retail sales are down everywhere, not just in London, and scrapping the congestion charge wouldn't really help.

I don't drive. I do not hold a driver's licence, never have, and at this right maybe never will. I very rarely get lifts anywhere in cars.

I think a lot of people who say they can't walk/cycle/bus don't really think about how easy it can be. I grew up in Canada, I was never driven to school, I did my paper route even when it was -30C and icy. Walking is probably safer than driving is in those conditions, if you have decent boots (which cost a lot less than decent tyres...). Waiting 10 minutes for a bus is not going to make a significant hole in most people's schedules, especially if they would have to drive around for 5 or 10 minutes at the other end trying to park. Getting kids to school on public transport does not have to be the nightmare it is made out to be (I have walked to school every day any time I have been in education). Yes, there are people who are too ill not to drive, people who have to drive because the nature of their jobs dictates that they need to be able to go anywhere at any time, people who are elderly and really can't handle walking to the store several times a week. I find the vast majority of drivers I speak to do not fit into these groups.
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[User Picture]From: spooke
2005-11-09 06:07 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, they're thinking of instituting a toll for driving into all major cities in Denmark, too. People don't seem too upset about it; I'm not sure if that's because everyone is used to hemhorraging money anyway, or due to the pervasive public transportation, or just because people are lethargic about issues in general.
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[User Picture]From: spooke
2005-11-09 06:06 pm (UTC)

I think I had a point somewhere. Tell me if you find it.

The public transportation in Denmark is relatively expensive, but also comprehensive. I didn't learn to drive until I was 25, and I have never owned a car. It makes me think about the parking problem in Europe - here the problem isn't fuel price so much as parking space, because the old cities didn't exactly leave a lot of room for parking garages or lots. Buildings have to be knocked down and roads rerouted, so alternative transportation here was spurred by the age of the cities... though within the last decade, large-scale efforts have been made to make the room for the suddenly climbing number of people with cars.
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[User Picture]From: wyrrlen
2005-11-09 06:08 pm (UTC)
Gas prices haven't really come back down in the Southeast. I paid 2.60 two days ago.

I don't mind seeing the prices higher myself, for much of the reasons you stated above. Biodiesel is now cheaper than gas in a lot of the state where I live. I think this is the first time that's ever happened.
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[User Picture]From: suzieboz
2005-11-09 07:01 pm (UTC)
Off the topic, but how'd you like the Historian?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-11-09 07:15 pm (UTC)
It was okay. I liked her attempt at paralleling the storytelling style of Stoker's Dracula, but I didn't think she did a clear enough job of separating the voices. And some things that were meant to be letters and journals jotted down quickly were told in far too novelistic a style. But it was a fun read. You?
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