Gas pains

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.

Many will grouse, some pointing the finger at President Trump or, more locally, the Legislature for the high taxes Massachusetts drivers pay per gallon. But as most experts will tell you, politicians have little control over the cost of gas, which is predicated mostly on worldwide production and supply.

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.

And don’t get us started on buses.

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.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

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.”