Field of Science

Remembering when gasoline was $3.59 a gallon

A combination of flu and field work, experienced separately, certainly have kept me away from the Phactor.

A funny and illuminating realization came to me yesterday while gassing up the buggy for a trip to my field site. Since the last time I had filled the tank, the prices had increased by over 50 cents a gallon. Yes, they are going up fast, but since I do not drive on a day to day basis at all, I only have to fill up the tank about once a month.

As I was beginning the fill, a fellow on the opposite side of the pump said, "Yikes, have you ever seen anything like these gas prices?" And as I looked at the $3.59, I remembered that yes, I had seen such gas prices before. The interesting and illuminating thing is that I encountered those prices nearly 23 years ago. OK maybe you are too young to have memories that old, and if such prices are setting records, what could I be talking about?

Well, here's a hint. It was called petrol and it was sold by the liter. And I was living in far northern Queensland enjoying my very first sabbatical leave. The reason that I remember the price so precisely is that to get reimbursed for my research travel from an NSF grant I had to calculate the price in dollars per gallon. At that point in time the US dollar had a very favorable exchange rate against the Australian dollar too.

So here's the point I want to make to the citizens of the USA. Welcome to the real world. Citizens of other countries have been living, successfully, with gasoline prices like those that you consider outrageous for decades. People in the USA have been living in a never-never land of cheap gasoline because after WWII our government decided to support the automobile industry and everything that goes with it: cheap fuel, interstate highways, sprawling cities, paving paradise for parking lots, no investment or support for public transportation, atrophy of legs, suburban malls and decline of city centers, and so on.

The transportation policies of the USA were very short-sighted, and now reality is finally arriving in the USA. The cost of gasoline is going to go higher still, but the cost of playing catch-up in building efficient public transport is really going to be shocking. People are going to have to rethink their decisions about where to live, and assess the real costs of country living.

Many of my colleagues protested when parking fees for reserved spots on our campus were increased over 10-fold to pay for construction of parking ramps. Rather than sign their petition, I wrote a letter to the university pleading with them to increase parking fees several times more to promote use of transportation alternatives. Since I live within walking distance of the campus, I had never purchased a parking permit. But most of my many colleagues living in the same neighborhood drive to campus. The most amusing thing is that the only tangible benefit from having been employed by this campus for more than 25 years is a free parking permit. They give me the one thing I had never used. Talk about irony.

1 comment:

Larissa said...

what? and no shout out to Newark for our cheap gas. They just skim it off the top of the Passaic!