Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Gas Habits

For almost the past 3 years I've been making a concerted effort to commute to work on my bike. It's a fairly straightforward 13 miles of flat roads through San Jose. Plenty of stop lights and traffic to keep you on your toes, but a great alternative to driving.

Looking back, I ironically chuckle to myself on remembering how I would (and still do) routinely look at motorists stuck in traffic just burning up gas in their tanks. Don't get me wrong, I'm not approaching this from an "I'm better because I cycle" attitude, but in some regards I am. On some level my commuting via the bike is making a difference. Less money out of pocket for gas, less emissions from my vehicle.

But today was different. I remember reading an editorial commentary in the SJ Merc last week that addressed the high rising cost of gas. If I remember correctly the argument was for government to step back and let market forces do what they need to do. At some point I think the author said that with the inconvenience of high gas prices it will really cause people to evaluate their needs and own patterns of vehicle use, primarily because it costs just so damn much (my foreign friends will laugh at this because it's still way more expensive to buy a liter of petrol in Europe).

But let's think about this further. As much as folks may not want to admit it, money is important. Take away money, and there are a lot of things in life that you can't enjoy. Strip down your expenses and you'll realize that maybe putting the kids in camp this summer will be tighter due to high gas prices, the track bike you'd like to buy needs to be postponed, the weekend trip to Tahoe will now cost an arm and leg for fuel. Things are getting impacted folks, and I don't think most folks realize the extent to which this will happen.

The cost of fuel is now becoming an impact to decisions that it never was in the past. Just last night I saw a few people interviewed by the local news channel on this point. Folks are actually trading in SUV's for a loss just so they can save money on fuel. Now that doesn't make economic sense in the pure theory form, but in reality, if you can save money now by dumping that gas guzzler which still has twelve months on the lease, then folks will do it.

This morning I actually saw my own habits change. I needed to run down to the local Postal Annex to ship out some eBay items. Instead of jumping in the car and driving two miles, I got on my bike, loaded up my messenger bag and hit the road. Its small things like this that I see myself doing more and more. Need groceries, hop on the bike. Haircut...bike.

I've got my fingers crossed that the positive by-product of this current state of affairs will be two things. First, a movement toward greener transportation alternatives that will benefit consumers and the environment. The drawback here is that the Detroit automotive industry is behind the 8-ball and is not a leader in any sense around this movement. It's their loss, and I don't feel sorry for them at all. We live in a global economy and if Toyota is kicking their ass with the Prius, then more power to Toyota. Second, times of crisis can be a catalyst for innovation. Innovation to change, innovation to create something new, innovation to think outside of the box. The drawback is this innovation may take years or decades before it turns into reality, but the need for innovative change is necessary.

Only time will tell how things play out. Hold on to your pocketbooks and spare change...


phipps said...

Detroit is a bit late in making changes. Europe had the Smart car and many similar small cars for years and we're just starting to see them over here. I guess $4 gas was the magic number.

Tall & Manley said...

I think the bus has left the station and the Big 3 automakers are still sitting on their hands. I read a report today that stated GM truck sales were down 30% from a year ago.

If gas hits $5, then I'm sure more companies might loosen up their telecommuting policies. At $6, maybe more bike lanes will be designated.

Who knows, if it hits $8 then we might have something akin to the Amsterdam bike rush hour with everybody on cycles or taking public transportation.

Susan Merrill said...

I can't tell you how refreshing moving across the river has been. Living in Boston for 2 years it was true city living walking, or taking the T (subway for you CA folks) everywhere. We would park the car and not drive it for weeks. There was still a ridiculous amount of cars gridlocked on the city streets but I could breeze by. Now in Cambridge there are bike lanes everywhere and every morning I see 20+ cyclists commuting to work within 2 blocks. It is so nice to see that I figured I'd try it for myself and thus began my plans to ride during the nice summer days. The first route I took to cover the 11 miles door to door to my office in Newton wasn't the most straightforward but it was beautiful, riding along The Charles before cutting into suberbia to my office park. It put me in a much better mood once in the office. I'm hooked. I definately agree that people's habits are being reconsidered and change is taking place, even in small ways and even if we aren't conciously trying to make a change for a better environment or to save a few bucks at the gas pump our actions are showing our true colors.

Tall & Manley said...

Susan, great to hear that you're making an effort back in Boston! You've already stumbled upon one thing that's great about commuting via the bike...it puts you in a great frame of mind when you step into the office and start your day.

Anonymous said...

I think your economic theory probably does not go far enough. Things could turn really sour since our reliance on oil is far more reaching than just cars. Think of farmers, gettng goods to market etc.

I personally believe that this will bring about significant investment that will leasd to different energy sources and methods. I think we will see a fair amount of good, and a fair amount of bad.

Tall & Manley said...


Good point. Hutch even made an interesting comment that the turnout at Sattley for the TT was down quite a bit, and potentially that was due to high gas prices.

What's next for us cyclists? Well, I'll go out on a limb and see if this sticks. Marin riders will dominate hill climbs, riders on the Peninsula will do well on hills and rollers, and us South Bay'ers will become velodrome studs. We'll be limited to the local venues for our riding. Yeah, pretty far off, but interesting.