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The Peak Oil Crisis: Transiting to Transit (Falls Church News-Press)

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  • Christopher Miller
    Posted on the Carfree list, an opinion article from a newspaper serving the suburban North Virginia area:
    Message 1 of 1 , May 10, 2008
      Posted on the "Carfree" list, an opinion article from a newspaper
      serving the suburban North Virginia area:


      Some interesting comments from readers after the article, too, at the
      above link.

      The Peak Oil Crisis: Transiting to Transit
      Written by Tom Whipple
      Thursday, 08 May 2008

      With crude oil now above $120 a barrel and threatening to go higher,
      it is clear that our preferred and convenient means of going places,
      our car, the airplane and the rental car soon are going to be parked
      because they will be too expensive to operate.

      Like it or not, most of us are going to be riding some form of mass
      transit or multiple passenger vehicle � trains, buses, trolleys, car
      pools, van pools etc.- while waiting for our cars to be replaced with
      electric or higher mileage vehicles. As there are currently about 220
      million cars and light trucks registered in the U.S. and 700 million
      or so elsewhere, the replacement process is going to be lengthy one.

      In America, our accustomed daily transportation needs are so diverse
      that it is difficult to foresee how new transportation methods and
      patterns will come about. For some simply accepting the inconvenience
      of taking public transit to work or joining a car pool will save
      enough gasoline each week that much higher prices, shortages and
      ultimately rationing can be accommodated without undue hardship.

      For others whose livelihood depends on a large vehicle that moves
      frequently throughout the work day there is more of a problem for mass
      transit as currently configured is unlikely to be of much use. At some
      point driving around at 10 mpg to mow lawns will no longer be
      economically viable for customers will no longer be willing to pay the
      fuel surcharges. Someday there probably will be satisfactory electric
      or ultra high mileage vehicles, but it is likely to be a while before
      they filter down from better off organizations such UPS, FedEx and the
      grocery stores to local maintenance contractors.

      One day soon, it will simply be too expensive for electricians,
      plumbers and a myriad of other household service providers to drive 50
      or 60 miles in large, inefficient vehicles to perform some relatively
      minor maintenance task. The very nature of such services will have to
      change, be localized, and planned so that travel is minimized.
      Someday, your electrician may arrive on a city bus pulling his tools
      and parts behind.

      The speed with which we have to transition from unlimited, cheap,
      personal travel to some form of public or at least multiple passenger
      transport will determine how transit works in the coming decades. If
      people are priced out of their cars relatively slowly over a period of
      many years then the transit industry and private entrepreneurs will
      have time to react. Bus schedules can be stepped up. More vehicles can
      be added to transit fleets and new routes can be added. Local
      governments might start or charter small local transit services that
      can move people and goods to and from their homes to longer-haul
      transit services.

      There may be efficiencies in combining people transport and package
      delivery on the same vehicle. An empty bus winding around a
      subdivision all day long might be unaffordable, but if that vehicle
      were delivering the groceries as well as providing the last leg of
      package deliveries, the economics even with very high gasoline prices
      might make sense. The internet and cell phone are likely to be of
      great value in coordinating efficient use of local transport.

      Five dollar gasoline may be enough to force some people to give up
      steady use of their personal cars and seek other solutions. For
      others, the quitting price may be ten or twenty dollars per gallon and
      for the very wealthy even $100 a gallon gasoline ($80 or $100 thousand
      a year) would be an acceptable price to pay for the convenience of the
      private car.

      In the case of slowly increasing gasoline prices the problem is one of
      forming a critical mass that will make economic sense for greatly
      expanded mass transit. Such a critical mass is likely to come for long
      distance travel first, for as soon as discretionary air travel becomes
      unaffordable, the demand for better train and bus service will
      increase rapidly. Long distance automobile travel may fill some of
      this gap especially for moving multiple passengers or if cars become
      significantly more efficient, but for the lone traveler, a long
      distance car trip could become very expensive.

      A totally different situation will exist if gasoline prices increase
      rapidly and permanent shortages develop leading to the imposition of
      rationing. Such an increase looks likely at the minute, demand simply
      getting so far ahead of the supply that the U.S. is no longer able to
      import its accustomed 12 million barrels per day. It would only take a
      five percent shortfall in supply to cause turmoil.

      Large organizations should have the resources to look after their
      employees in a transportation emergency � be it assistance in forming
      carpools, company supplied vans, flexible hours, telecommuting or
      whatever works. It is the self-employed or employees of small firms
      that currently are dependent on motor vehicles for their living that
      will be in deep trouble almost immediately. Independent truckers are
      already complaining mightily about diesel prices and many have been
      forced out of business. Their used trucks, by the way, are being sold
      to the Russians in increasing numbers. The Russians will still have
      cheap diesel for a while and they love the reliability and comfort of
      big American 18 wheelers that are being sold off at bargain prices.

      Local governments are going to have to deal with the transportation
      problem or be faced with massive social issues as people become
      isolated from places of employment. A large decline in personal
      mobility is likely to result in considerable economic hardship and job
      losses as much discretionary travel will simply stop due to excessive
      costs or the inconvenience of other arrangements.


      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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