Sunday, May 04, 2008

How many dollars a gallon?

The national Sunday morning news shows focused on Obama and Clinton, because of the recent Reverend Wright resurgence and the upcoming primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. However, the KD/PG program and the Post Gazette Forum section focused on the price of gas. That’s not surprising, now that our primary has gone by, we can and are more interested in every day matters. The Post Gazette’s piece, by a CMU professor named Lester Lave, was both pretty interesting and sort of a “no duh” sort of piece. He began by giving a reasonable sort of over view of the US’s recent history of gas consumption, the missed opportunities to improve mileage standards and the unfortunate fashion of buying SUV’s (as one owner put it , because everyone else has one). He mentioned that Europeans are much more efficient consumers of energy, in their buildings, their industries and their transportation. He also made the statement that they do not suffer in their standard of living, something that many of us simply might not believe.

He made some policy prescriptions as well. The first was to raise mileage standards and the second to educate consumers. Of course, Congress simply has not shown the will to raise the CAFÉ standards and especially with “An Inconvenient Truth”, those who are willing to be educated (and even many of those who aren’t) have learned quite a bit. Dr Lave’s last suggestion is one that has in fact been made many times, but may be getting closer to being enacted. Instead of enacting a gas tax holiday, Dr Lave proposes going the European route and enacting a gas tax nightmare – four dollars a gallon tax. According to Dr. Lave (and I believe him, by the way) Europeans are paying $8.50 a gallon. Before the wealthy white readers throw up their hands and say “What about the poor people?” (many of whom may not have cars), remember that tax revenue can come back to targeted groups. Dr. Lave suggests exempting the $20,000 of income from the Social Security tax, paid for the gas tax revenue. I think the earned income credit could be adjusted upward as an alternative, for example. The EIC is a great way to help the nation’s working poor, too, because it costs employers nothing, so it doesn’t impact prices (the way the minimum wage might). Now, I would hope a four dollar a gallon tax would be phased in, say a dollar a gallon every six months. The oil companies would scream bloody murder because their profits would go down with the decreased gasoline use. But they helped get us in to this problem, and they wouldn’t disappear, they’d just have to get use to smaller profits. And the tax revenue could also help fund research on alternative fuels.

I myself have decided that bringing a folding bike on to a PAT bus is a practical impossibility. I may still try a few trial runs after July first (when I am sure there will be few or no Schenley students on the morning bus). But I have already ordered a cheap electric bike (from Walmart). It’s due to arrive in about a week. Actually, its not so cheap, it will take, in my estimate, a year to pay for itself in lower gas consumption. And it is recharged from the house electricity, so I am helping the coal burning electric companies (although not a whole heck of a lot). However, arriving to work not totally drenched in sweat is an appealing idea, and perhaps my presence on the road will give a few more people the idea that they too could occasionally abandon their cars and find some sort of two wheeled transportation.


Web said...

I'm curious what makes it practically impossible to bring a folding bike on board PAT - lack of space, bike too heavy/big, bus driver's attitude?

There are practical folding bikes that fold quickly into fairly small packages. For multi-modal commutes in which the "last mile" is up to 3 miles, the most practical I've found is the $179/22.5 lb E-Z Pack folding bike. I'm 5'9" and the E-Z Pack has worked quite well for me.

Naturally, if the "last mile" is only a quarter of a mile, there are folding kick scooters that could do the trick (provided you have a smooth riding surface).

By the way, now that new battery technologies are coming to market, electric folding bikes that are low on weight and high on run time are coming to market now. With time, prices on these folding bikes should become more affordable too.

EdHeath said...

Well, I don't know if you are familiar with the 71A or the 500 routes. They get as crowded as city buses can get in the morning. I have a bike like the EZ pack, with gears no less, the Kent International Ultra-Lite. It does not perform well though. One review described it as like riding a unicycle, which I think is quite apt. I think I am going to sell it, in fact. I also have a generic Chinese folding bike re-branded as a Schwinn. With 20 inch wheels, it performs much better, and is my bike of choice for taking on a bus. I can slide it under the handicap seats well, but then I have to slide it out again, which is awkward if anyone is sitting next to me. Plus I hate to sit in the seats at the front of the bus when other people probably need them. And when the bus is crowded, it is awkward to take this metal object with sharp points and grease through the crowd. The bus drivers have never given me a problem, they just look a little curious as I drag this thing on to the bus. As I said in my post, I think the 71A will be less crowded in the morning when the High School lets out for the summer.

By the way, my “last mile” is in fact pretty much a mile, up hills just steep and long enough to warrant a bicycle over a kick scooter. And I have a first mile too, where I carry the bike down a set of city steps and deal with some hills. I have ridden the 20” bike through the full four mile commute, and it was fine doing that (a little slower than a full size would be), but I worry I ma putting wear on it that it was not designed to take.

So that’s why I am turning to an electric bike, albeit a very cheap one. I have a regular “hybrid” bike, those crosses between a mountain and a road bike, but I haven’t ridden it in years. And I am not happy with the thought of arriving at work very sweaty.

Web said...

I know the Kent Ultralite; it's geared low. The E-Z Pack is more like riding a Mobiky Genius in 2nd or 3rd gear because it has a dual crank drivetrain that compensates for the small wheel size.

Electric bikes can make hills effortless. If you're riding just 4 miles, that's well within the range of every electric I know. Perhaps the electric bike will allow you to ditch the bus completely.

EdHeath said...

Actually, (ahem) I tend to commute by car right now. An efficient little Hyundai Accent 5 speed, but still a car. I park about a mile from work, and sometimes I toss the folding bike in the trunk and use it to complete the last mile. I thinking walking is the better exercise in this case (biking leaves me a bit sweaty, but overall it is more efficient than walking). But I do think that the electric bike should allow me to ditch the car largely, even though my commute is actually pretty hilly. It all remains to be seen, but ideally I would only use the car when I was either preparing taxes after work a couple days a week (January through April) or picking my wife up from the assisted living home her mom is in.