One of my favorite jokes (every single spring) is that it’s my favorite time of year: When lazy reporters from the local news stations go out and interview people at gas stations, and ask them how much pain they’re feeling at the pump as they fill up their massive SUV. It’s repetitive and predictable, but then again SO ARE GAS PRICES! We’ve had spikes in gasoline prices in ’05, 06, 07, 08, 11 and now again in 2012. About the only thing that’s abnormal about gas prices over the past half-decade is that we *didn’t* have record gas prices in ’09 and ’10 due to a worldwide recession. And yet, even though reporters could probably dust off footage from 2008 and call it a day, they’re still out there pounding the pavement looking for new footage. It’s as hilarious as it is predictable.
I have to say, though, I’m actually looking forward to higher gas prices, even beyond the selfish reasoning that it’ll help us sell bikes.
1) It’s reducing our need for foreign oil. The US went from importing ~13.5 million barrels of oil per day in 2006 to ~8 million barrels today. Think about that for a second, every single day in America we’re importing 5.5 *million* fewer barrels of oil. We’re actually using 10% less oil now than we were in ’07, and that combined with increased production has allowed us to be a net exporter of refined gasoline… Would you ever have imagined that?
2) Car manufacturers are stepping up to the plate with both smaller and sportier cars. 7 years ago if you wanted a “sporty hatchback” from a US manufacturer, your choices were………….. a Ford Focus? Chevy didn’t make any and the Dodge Caliber *wasn’t* a hatchback but rather a mini-SUV trucklet for people that wanted a full-size SUV but couldn’t afford one. You had a few imports to choose from, and that was about it. Today you have choices from Ford (Fiesta, Focus), Chevy (ok, at least the new Aveo isn’t hideous) and a plethora of imports from Fiat, MINI, Honda, Toyota/Scion and so on. Without high gas prices Americans would have stuck to buying mammoth SUVs so that they could feel safe (and yet be a danger to everyone else on the road).
3) Manufacturers are also finding ways to make modern cars more efficient. Whether it’s small turbo’d engines, low-rolling-resistance tires, start/stop technology, or 6/7/8sp gearboxes, car manufacturers are finding ways to get more MPGs out of their cars. For a laugh I went back to the epa.gov website to find out what my old 1988 Honda Prelude got for gas mileage under current standards: 22mpg. 140hp, 5sp manual, weighed all of ~2800lbs, and yet got a whopping 22 miles per gallon (low 30s if you babied it on the highway at ~60mph) based on today’s testing standards. Today you can get a similarly-powered, similarly-sized car that gets 42. (As a further anecdote, a previous car I had was a 1977 Camaro with the 305 v8, 2bbl carbs, 3sp automatic which *also* put out 140hp, and it got around……. 13mpg.)
4) Diesel cars. ‘Nuff said.
5) It’s forcing cities to come to grips with urban planning, and to actually *do* something to help people move around. Cars are horribly inefficient for that, as anyone who’s ever gotten stuck on the Tri-Boro bridge (or Cross Bronx, or Major Deagan, or Whitestone/Throggsneck Bridges, or…) knows full well. Without high gas prices, people won’t change, and therefore neither will cities. They’d just keep building car-oriented infrastructure and throw their hands up in the air as congestion gets worse. Now many cities actually *want* people to take bikes or mass transit, since the load on the infrastructure is so much less. Chicago is finally getting on board with protected bike lanes, and NYC is adding miles and miles of them each year. Higher gas prices also cause far-flung homes in “suburban hell” to fall in price, and those closer to the city centers to be in higher demand. It’s a total shift on how people think about where to live and how to get to work.
Do I hate filling my tank up with gas? Sure. Do I still drive when I’m on certain errands like making a Costco run? Yup (sorry, I’m not going to ride back the ~17 miles with 500lbs of water-softener salt in the kiddie trailer). I mean, I try to reduce my gasoline consumption where I’m able to, but I do still need a car for some things. But to me, anyway, the positives of higher gas prices *far* outweigh the negatives. So bring on the news reports!