Sunday, June 1, 2008

Reasons To Cheer the Higher Price of Gas

No, this isn't a joke.

I came across this article over at Market Watch, and I think it's (mostly) pretty great. It goes far beyond the moaning over the current price of gas, and makes predictions as to what may likely happen as the price of gas hits $8.

The article also made me think: what is your threshold for paying to drive? At what point will people realize that driving is a luxury, and not a need? How much higher does the price of gas have to go before you really realize that to save money you just need to not drive alone, or to drive less?

I've seen people comment on "Oh, but it takes longer to carpool/take public transportation." Well, maybe...maybe not. Let's look at an example I experienced firsthand: a little over a year ago, I came back from living abroad and I stayed with my mother for a few months while I got re-settled. My mother works somewhat close to my primary client's office, and we would carpool together. There were times when my mother commented that she would get to work 20 minutes early because she'd been able to use the carpool lanes on the freeway. This, after having to get off the freeway, deal with street traffice, drop me off, and then get back on the freeway. Of course, some days the time savings was a bit less, but she was never late to work because she carpooled with me. In fact, I got her to start leaving a few minutes later (I'm not a morning person and I'll take an extra five minutes of sleep if I can), and she was still early to work!

How about two more examples, this time with public transit? I live close to downtown Seattle, and my primary client is on the eastside. The bus I take to get there uses a private entry to the freeway, allowing it to bypass around a mile of car traffic. Yes, it gets caught in that traffic when it merges, but compare the time savings for even that single mile. When I lived in another part of Seattle, it used to take ages for the bus to cross the couple miles on the freeway, so that it could connect to another freeway (this sounds longer than it is -- the total commute for me was somewhere around 8-9 miles). Eventually, a wonderful solution came up -- the city designated a lane on the freeway for the exclusive use of the buses. So, what would previously take as much as 20 minutes was reduced to a couple minutes. It also made commuting in a car longer, because cars had a lane taken from them.

Aside from potentially quicker commutes, think about this: haven't had time to read a book? Haven't had time to return an acquaintance's phone call? Do you wish your stress level was lower? Do you wish you could take a nap in the afternoon? Well, public transit enables all of these things. I generally read at least two books per week -- much of it while commuting. I don't generally have phone conversations on the bus, though I do occasionally. While I don't even know how to drive, I've seen the stress of drivers I've ridden with, and I'm thankful I don't have to deal with the jacka**es I've seen them deal with. I also regularly take naps when I take the bus back to Seattle.

Sure, there are some jacka**es on the bus, I know. I've sat next to the loonies who use styrofoam as a microphone to broadcast their views on whatever tickle's their fancy. I've sat in front of loonies singing country songs and moaning about government conspiracies.

I know some people will say "oh, but those are exactly the reasons I don't ride the bus...I don't want contact with those people." I say PFFT! Stop making excuses. Especially if you live in the suburbs, you really don't have to worry about this. Nearly everyone on the bus I take to my client's office is pretty vanilla. And really, the occasional loonies make the ride interesting -- I've gotten some pretty entertaining stories.

Yes, I know some people live places where public transportation isn't great. But that doesn't mean that you need an SUV in the city (really, how many people with SUVs really use them as a Sports Utility Vehicle???!). Get involved in your community and help drive the creation of a good/better transportation system. Just because one doesn't exist doesn't mean that driving a too big car too often is justified.

There have always been times when I wished I could drive. Yet none of those wishes has revolved around just being about to get to work more quickly. Sure, the bus to my client's office doesn't go exactly the route from the bus stop to the office (obviously), but I use that time for other "me" things. Sure, I like it when I can carpool to my client's. I also try to plan when I ride the bus, so that it won't take longer because of rush hour traffic (this can mean the difference between a 20 minute and a 60+ minute ride).

I once figured out (around 2002) that, living in Seattle where parking alone is outrageously expensive, it would cost me a good $500-700 per month to have a car. This included: car payment, insurance, gas, parking. Actually, it didn't really include parking because there was free parking where I lived then. When we go to the grocery store, we say "Is this loaf of bread really worth $4?" and make a decision that generally includes finding a cheaper alternative. Is being able to drive yourself around in a car, without carpooling or sharing that expense (e.g. family) really worth what it costs to rent an apartment in an urban city?? Because really, when I figured out the $500-700/month cost, I was paying under $800 to rent a one bedroom apartment.

So yeah, if people start rethinking their lives and choosing sane alternatives, it's a win-win situation: cheaper for the person, better for the environment, and a wake-up call to the car companies that refuse to aggressively pursue viable fuel alternatives.


Jerry said...

Great post! These are things that everyone needs to think about. Being green and saving money on gas is not only good for your budget it's insurance for the environment. It's just the right thing to do and it just happens to leads to greater savings personally. It's a win win.


SavingDiva said...

I really enjoyed this post. I totally agree! However, I do have a car...and do drive quite a bit. I only use my car on the weekends to visit my boyfriend. I see my car as a luxury item....However, I think the higher price of gas will help Americans cut back on all of the unneccessary driving...