Surging gas prices give Mass even more reason to improve public transportation
After several years of relatively agreeable gas prices, the surge has begun again and where it stops, nobody knows.
The cost of a gallon of gas nationally has risen to $2.90, according to AAA, with Massachusetts prices just a tick behind at $2.89. That’s an increase of 22.6 percent from a year ago and while it’s not in the stratosphere of the all-time high of $4.09 back in July 2008, it’s been a slow steady march toward the $3 level. Just in time for the Memorial Day weekend getaways.
But as we’ve seen, there is little that changes people’s driving habits. An extra $1,300 a year – the prediction of analysts of what the average family will pay with the price hikes – will likely not deter them anyway, given the paucity of reliable alternatives.
The price increases affect more than just the average driver, with the increase in fuel baked into the cost of delivering goods and, by extension, higher consumer prices. Depending upon how one looks at it, that’s good news and bad news. Good: The economy is rolling along, which is fueling the demand. Bad: Wages are fairly stagnant so it drains household budgets.
One thing that will likely get minimal chatter is the state of the public transportation system in Massachusetts and the need to improve it to entice would-be drivers onto trains and buses. The MBTA continues to have widespread problems meeting demand at rush hours with its aging fleet. Gov. Charlie Baker and transportation officials have been touting the purchase of new equipment but delivery will take time.
While the commuter rail didn’t make as much news this winter as it has in the past for breakdowns, cancellations, and delays, there were still enough to sour those who aren’t committed to the train from making it a regular ride regardless of the season.
It’s been 45 years since the oil embargo kicked off the upward climb in prices that rarely abates. There’s been some attempts at fuel efficiency for vehicles and weaning the country off reliance on foreign oil. The spike in prices will likely fuel support, at least among conservatives, for Trump’s push to open up the Arctic and offshore waters to drilling. But it will also put a spotlight on attempts by the administration to ratchet back efficiency standards for carmakers.
Little of the debate, however, will touch on what we need to do to improve the crumbling transit systems across the country and pump more money into those alternatives to driving. It’s not just because of America’s love affair with their cars because it’s actually not a love affair. It’s all-out dysfunctional co-dependence.But to get the kind of support for public transportation that would require those who use it least to contribute is a Herculean effort. And to convince those same people that taking public transportation, walking, or biking is good for their wallets, the environment, and their all-around health has proven to be next to impossible.
As Winston Churchill once said, “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”