Are lower gas prices really good?

I was gassing up my car yesterday for $2.269 a gallon, amazed by how quickly the price of gas has come down. According to the AAA (as of 11/13/05), the average price of premium (turbochargers like premium) was around $3.30 a gallon just a month ago. Of course, there are several factors at play – lower demand, increased supply, warm weather, even perhaps public and congressional scrutiny.

Obviously, this is a good on our wallets. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the horror stories concerning SUV drivers spending over $100 to fill their tank when gas prices were at their highest during the summer. Well, when you buy a vehicle that gets 15 miles to the gallon, you’re going to be much more sensitive to higher gas prices. And the relief will be much greater when prices go down. My big question: Will people learn from this experience and demand more fuel efficient vehicles? All it took was a major hurricane to hit just the right spot, and we had gas stations running out gas, wildly fluctuating prices, and talk of gas rationing. At least, that’s the way it was here.

I fear that we will learn nothing of the experience, and the same thing will happen again. What do you think?

5 replies on “Are lower gas prices really good?”

i think you’re right – nothing will happen. people will forget once things get back to “normal.” it’s part of the problem of living in such a short-sighted society – nobody thinks down the road and says, “well, it happened this time, it could happen again.” hell, we clearly didn’t learn from gas rationing in the 70s – instead we decided to make even bigger vehicles that use even more fuel. this society will never learn until those at the very tippy top come tumbling down and see what it feels like to live the daily struggle of most of the rest of the country.


We see short sightedness everywhere in society. Stock prices tank on the first hint of bad news. No one is interested in investing in the future, or spending more now to save later. It’s about getting everything done as quickly and cheaply as possible.

In Europe, or England at least, the price of petrol is always high. I think they tax the gas to add the environmental price to the monetary price. So people rely heavily on the public transit system, and their system in excellent. Public Transit is a national issue, and politicians can lose their job if there are public transit problems.

But you can get anywhere on P.T., absolutely everywhere. If our gas prices retrun to normal, not only will the American public not demand more fuel efficent vehicles, but our public transit systems will not improve. Amtrak will continue to be underfunded by the federal government and our local systems will continue to be too limited and too expensive. Here in Philadelphia, it costs $2.00 to take a bus in one direction, $2.60 with a paper transfer to another line. This makes us the most expensive or second most expensive system in the US. Service isn’t always great, but you can get to every part of the city, although not always easily. The SEPTA system (Southeaster Penna. Transportation Authority) is poorly run, full of corruption, and being underfunded by the state. There is no hope in sight of a real fix. The buses and subways are separately run from the Regional Rail Lines. The Regional Rail Lines cater to the yuppies from the Bucks & Montgomery County Suburbs, and they are run significantly better than many of the bus lines. The buses and subways serve most poor, city-dwellin’ folks.

We need competition here, a separate transity company to force SEPTA to shape up. But we also need more people to ride SEPTA. One of the reasons it’s so expensive is that we have lower ridership than other transit systems, so it costs more per rider to run, and those prices are passed onto us. But to get more riders, you would need to improve service and lower prices. We could do that if SEPTA management started to give a crap and the state of PA upheld it’s end of the bargain and funded SEPTA as they are supposed to (there is legislation that is not being enforced regarding state funding for SEPTA.)

Of course, more people would ride if gas prices stayed up. During the height of this gas price thing, SEPTA ridership was definately up. A weekly transpass to ride all buses, trolleys, and subways and the EL costs $17.25, it’s $69 for a monthy pass. That is certainly cheaper than gassing up a car, even with the lower prices. I save a ton of money by not having a car. I only need one to get to and from the laundromat and home from the grocery store, and for that I use a cab. But this is a move of necessity. To get more people to choose public transit over personal vehicles will require gas prices to stay high. Then people will demand better public transit. Future generations will thank us.

Public transit will only work in large cities. And even then, American culture practically screams that everyone should have their own car. It’s a rite of passage to get a driver’s license, and you’ll always remember what you learned to drive on, and what your first car was. (I learned on a mid-80’s Aerostar, and had a 1992 Ford Tempo.)

Along with cultural ideas against it, there are many, many factors that work against public transportation. Rural areas are out, because there is not a critical mass of people to make a transit system viable, regardless of how much gas costs.

The costs saved by taking PT are lost by how much longer it takes to get somewhere. Some of my friends in college took the bus from the campus to the mall once. It takes about half an hour to drive there, but they were on the bus for over 2 hours. I’m willing to pay that extra couple dollars if it means saving 3 hours travel time.

Now I’m not saying that public transportation is a bad thing. If I lived in an area where it was a viable alternative, I would definitely use it. The sad fact is that those areas are few and far between.

I’m sure we’ve all heard of the horror stories concerning SUV drivers spending over $100 to fill their tank when gas prices were at their highest during the summer.

More specifically, it’s like one of those horror movies where the characters are complete morons… the kind where everyone is covering their eyes and screaming in the theatre, “Don’t go back into the dealership you idiot! They only get 10mpg!”

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