Gas prices seesaw

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NEXT to the weather and taxes, many of us who commute to work have come to believe that there’s nothing we can do about traffic, either. Even so, the first thing many commuters say when they get to work or return home is their observation on their commute, and it usually isn’t pretty.

But a funny thing happened as gas prices approached $5 a gallon this summer: Commuters’ comments changed from the unprintable to the unbelievable. Commutes tended to be shorter and freeways less congested as commuters garaged their Hummers and switched to mass transit in record numbers. People were actually thinking good thoughts about Caltrans.

But …

As gas prices dipped to the $2 level and lower – prices many of us never thought we’d see again – commuters are taking to the freeways again, and not minding filling up the tanks of their SUVs, either.

For the Blue Line, which runs from Long Beach to downtown L.A., there were nearly 85,000 average weekday boardings a day in September, before gas prices began their steep decline. In October, there were about 80,600 daily boardings, which could explain why the Harbor Freeway is such a mess. MTA bus ridership was down about 30,000 average weekday boardings in October from the previous month.

But the news isn’t all bad. Despite declines in ridership in October, the number of MTA bus, subway and light rail boardings are up between 4 and 9 percent over October, 2007, leading us to believe that not everyone

is firing up their Hummers.

Better news yet is the number of motor vehicle deaths has declined.

Last year, 41,059 people were killed on the nation’s roads. Experts are predicting that this year’s toll will be about 37,000, the lowest in four decades. In June alone, U.S. motorists drove 12.2 billion fewer miles than a year ago.

Urban policy experts and some newspaper columnists were hoping that $4 gas prices would continue, for a lot of reasons. The use of mass transit, for one; the impetus for auto makers to produce fuel-efficient vehicles for another – with the difference in price between $2 and $4 gas going for road repair, mass transit and pollution control.

The shame of it is that as gas prices rise again – and they surely will – that money will wind up in the pockets of oil companies and Mideast sheiks, instead of being invested in road repair, mass transit and pollution control.

If there is a bright spot for the economy in this familiar tale of seesaw gas prices, it’s that consumers have more money in their pockets to spend this holiday season.

Retailers are standing by.


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Filed under Automotives, Energy, Transport News

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