Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Oh, Boo Hoo

OK, I know I'm not being very nice by laughing so hard at the current "gas crisis." I shouldn't be laughing, I just got my first car, and now gas prices are nearing $5 a gallon!

But I just clicked on and saw an item they have on there which was described thusly: "The record-high price of gasoline is putting a strain on American motorists - and spurring some to shift their habits. Here are their stories." Oh good lord. Their stories about finally thinking about their consumption habits?? The photo spot next to the item shows a running slidehow of presumably normal (white) Americans, some with rosy-cheeked kids in tow, staring poignantly into the camera. "Gas is so expensive!" They seem to be saying, "How could you do this to me, God??!!"

All I could think was: It's about time, sheesh.

Now, I understand that the U.S. is a car culture , and it's not most peoples' fault that they drive so much. There aren't many options, unless you live in a big city, for getting around without a car, and even in most cities, the options aren't very welcoming. I mean I should know, I've taken the bus at 11:30 at night from events in San Francisco; I know the discomfort of waiting in the cold for a bus that may or may not arrive, when all you want to do is be home and warm and in bed. I know the shady characters that you seek to avoid by staring at your shoes as you take your seat, knowing, just knowing, that they'll choose you to sit next to.

I know that people need to work, and buy food, and have a social life. And because we don't have the infrastructure that most countries have, of a decent public transportation system, and that though we have the technology to make cars that pollute less, for various reasons such cars are not available for the majority of Americans, and that we have to rely on the options we have, which in most cases, are gas-fueled cars.

I know all this. But I still find myself thinking "It's about time. Sheesh."

Maybe because I know there are options out there for ways to get around without a car, and those options don't scare me, I don't find gas prices an issue. And I have to admit that my self-righteousness kicks in when I see these overwrought news items about how people are finding ways to get around by driving less. It's about time!

Another item I saw reported that the ridership on Caltrain has jumped by something like 7%, and that there's standing-room-only on some commuter trains. It's about time!

Because these ways have been around for years! These are not new options! In the 24 years that I have been taking public transportation, nothing has changed. There are still the same BART and bus lines that I have been taking since I was 14 years old. And why has ridership been down in recent years? Because people haven't been thinking about the gas they're consuming. Even with a pointless, bloody war over oil, most people haven't cut back on their driving. But when it hits the pocketbook: Oh My.

I'm hoping that gas prices stay high because I finally see people paying attention. In my ideal world, this will mean that whoah, we might see some efficient public transportation being developed! And amazing, we might see alternative-fueled vehicles that actually come to fruition, and might actually be affordable for more people. And my lord, we might see more development of sustainable live/work communities that include easy walking or biking access to the places that humans frequent. Oh, and, wonder of wonders, we might even see people developing communities around sharing: sharing cars, sharing food, sharing knowledge, sharing lives. Wouldn't it be wonderful? And it might all be because dammit, we can't afford to drive everywhere anymore.

It's about time!


larissa said...

I have to admit I'm really hoping it spurs some changes too. Unforunatly so much of the infra-structure is built for cars I know it'll be awhile but if they just begin to think about sustainable urban growth, mixed-use neighborhoods and build transportation into the city planning that would already be a huge step in the right direction. Besides environmental effects, it also seems so directly to tie into other issues such obesity rates and depression and isolation through lack of community. Personally the high gas prices seems like a wonderful opportunity in many ways...I'm keeping my fingers crossed other people start to see it that way as well.

chasingjoy said...

Good read Mel. Very thought provoking.

One of my favorite parts of my trip to Boston a couple of years ago was that there was no need to rent a car. Their public transportation absolutely ROCKS! Thus, more beer money!!!!

My basic feeling about the whole situation is that it isn’t us little guys that are paying so dearly that should be doing all the paying but you’re right, if WE don’t suffer, change will never come about. That flippin sucks! Our city planners screwed up and they really need to do something to get on the ball. So many of us across the nation simply don’t have an option.

Nashville offers some public transportation but it's mostly metro buses (not avail here) or a commuter train, which we have to drive 2 miles to reach. Jamie’s office is only 13 miles away. Once he drives the 2 miles to the station, wastes an hour waiting for and then riding the train he still has to find a way to get the last 1.5 miles from the train station to his office then repeat the process again in the evening.

Is the 2-hour plus loss in his day really worth 9.5 miles? That’s 2 hours he could spend with Jensen (our 15-month old son). Oh, and Nashville has recently eliminated some of it’s bus routes due to rising gas prices so that puts more of people that wanted to be responsible back on the street. Go figure. Plus a 10-ticket pass (1 week basically) on the commuter train is $38, not much better than the gas Jamie needs for the week.

If I need to be labeled I'd have to say I am one of the "Why is this happening to us?" people. I do try to limit my trips. But I'm a stay at home mom. I'd go insane if I stayed home all the time. And because I'm a SAHM that means we're living on one income. Yep, that's our choice but I think it's a darn good choice to raise my own children instead of allowing strangers in a daycare to instill their values (or lack thereof in some cases) in my children.

The problem isn't just the gas prices anymore. We have to pay more for everything. Anything that has to be transported has become more expensive. Groceries take a huge hit on our budget. Sure, I could make hamburger helper everyday but I’m also interested in the health of my family so I avoid processed foods as much as possible. I have to pay for that choice. Any service such as garbage pickup is more expensive too. It’s hitting the budget all over the place.

I didn’t miss that you realize public transportation isn’t available for most of us. I just wanted to share my perspective on the situation since I live in an area where public transportation touches nothing more than the surface. Give me a bus; I’ll ride it (assuming I can get a double stroller on it). LOL! Cheers!