Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Auto-dependence forces financial and personal sacrifices

Interesting article today on It's all about the financial costs of high gas prices, which may also force personal sacrifices as well.

One single mom doesn't visit her extended family, because she can't afford to either fly or drive to 400 miles. Another parent has cut back on the number of days that her daughter attends pre-school, because the drive costs too much.

But the numbers in the article are also sobering. If gas averages $3.70/gallon for 2011 (and we all know it's already higher than that, so the average for the year may end up being higher as well), each American will average $4000 on gas alone. That's not counting car payments, maintenance, parking, oil changes, car washes, or any of the other costs of owning and operating a car.

$4000, that's a lot of money. Think what you or your family could do with $4000. That's a couple of mortage payments. Or a nice vacation. Or most of a new roof. Or a contribution to your retirement account. Or so many other things instead of gas for the car.

Here's another quote from the article: "Nationwide, drivers are estimated to spend 8.7% of their median income in 2011 on gas, according to the Oil Price Information Service."  Again, I think about how else we cold be spending 8.7% of our income. Getting out of debt, paying for college, clothes for the kids, renovating the bathroom, etc.

Too bad most Americans have so few options for getting around, except to drive a car, which needs gas. The article points out that most people have little choice to keep buying gas and driving. They live in communities where walking, biking, or transit are not realistic transportation choices for most trips. We have a poor intercity bus system, and few places where trains are available, affordable, or efficient.

Here in Wisconsin our governor rejected $810 million in federal funding to extend the Chicago to Milwaukee high speed rail service to Madison, just a step in having service all the way to the Twin Cities. The Joint Finance Committee yesterday passed a budget amendment to repeal the ability of local communities to form Regional Transit Authorities. They also voted to eliminate state assistance for intercity buses. And, they voted to eliminate the $2.5 million annual that went to help build bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

But there is still plenty of money for roads. Walker wants to turn US Highway 41 into an interstate, which would cost $15-20 million. Walker is also backing $1 billion to expand I-39/90 from Madison to the Illinois state line - just 45 miles of roadway.

Yes, no matter how high gas prices go, and no matter how much it hurts to be dependent on one's car, our elected officials will continue to support roads over any other option. And we keep building our communities so that driving is the only practical option. As the CNN Money article states,
"Gas prices are like Chinese water torture for consumers," said Mark Cooper, Director of Research at the Consumer Federation of America. "The problem is, once you buy your car and once you buy your house your gasoline consumption is pretty much set," he said.
"If the price goes up, people have real difficultly cutting back, and that means they will have to find other areas to cut back which are more discretionary."
So, when will we demand more and better transportation options, and local planning and spending that frees us from our dependence on cars and gasoline?

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