About the Blog:

Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gas Pain is the Best Pain

I remember in the early days of the election, and my interview with John Lawson. He said to me that we'll see gas prices hit $1.50 sometime this summer, adding, “No one in the mainline parties that [understand] that this is just the beginning. Now there are no alternatives, and what we need to begin now is looking at real alternatives. My vision for Guelph would be one that is largely self-sustainable for each house.”
Shortly after this interview, the price of gas started flirting with the $1.40 per litre threshold, and now, after a short rest-bit, the cost to fill up the tank shot up nearly 7 cents in 12 hours. And further, former Liberal MP and gas price watchdog Dan McTeague said that the price at the pump will likely, finally, cross the $1.40 mark on Wednesday. At least here in southern Ontario. In Montreal they're already paying $1.44.
The reaction, as always with gas price increases, was swiftly negative. Will it inspire people to change their behaviour? Well, let's consult a CP24 poll from today asking, "How are you coping with record high gas prices?" Two-thirds of respondents said that they're just going to drive less. Only 17 per cent said that they will now take public transit, with 12 per cent saying that they'll walk or bike, and the bottom 5 per cent saying that they'll slum and car pool. Granted, this is merely one, unscientific poll, but you have to ask yourself: what will it take for people to let go of their automobiles? The truth of the matter is that people are going to be have to priced out of their cars, and the way to do that is gas prices.
Granted, the sudden spike at the pumps is being driven more by commodity speculators than a rise in the price of oil, which did start to back-off earlier in trading this morning. But perhaps the greed of the oil companies and others can work in the favour of the people and the environment. On CP24 this morning, they read several tweets from viewers talking about gas prices. One woman tweeted that for the first time she bought a Metro pass and rode the TTC, and, get this, she was loving it. Her words. Would she have rode the TTC and loved it had gas prices not gone up? Of course not.
It'll be interesting to see if that love sustains the occasional hiccups in the TTC system. You ride public transit with any kind of consistency and you're going to see its problems and limitations. While I was at the Galaxy Cinema last week, I overheard one guy saying to his friend as they were leaving their car that it takes so long to get across town. Yeah? Do you ever take Guelph Transit? Because how long does it take to get from the southern most end of Guelph to the northern most end by Guelph Transit?
For Guelph, there is change on the horizon this fall with new routes that will hopefully cut down on travel time for most trips, but how long did it take for the city to reach the idea that having every bus go downtown every half-hour was a bad idea? Remember this past winter when the city, once again, attempted to mitigate transit growth by effecting a "summer service" and making no allowance for a return to stat-holiday service? I know full well about the city's cash problems, but transit use is a catch-22, you have to provide better service to attract more riders to get more revenue to pay for better service. 
When the gas prices went up a couple of weeks ago, somebody, I can't remember who, suggested we boycott gas stations for three days. How ineffectual is that? The gas companies know they'll get you eventually, because the fact of the matter is that people just love to drive. We've created a society here in southern Ontario based on that fact. You may live in Milton, but you work in Toronto. Why? Because you wanted a big house with a yard, but all the jobs worth getting paid to do are in bigger cities like Toronto. 
“We’ve gotten used to cheap fuel and built our society around that," said Jason Parent, an analyst at MJ Ervin & Associates, a London, Ont.-based petroleum consulting firm in the Toronto Star. "We drive big cars and live 50 kilometres outside the city, so it’s a bit of a shock when prices go up. But in comparison to some places, however, we’re pretty well off.”
By comparison, right now we're paying about 30 cents more than our American friends, and about a dollar less than many of our European friends. Why? Mostly because they tax their gas more to pay for public transit. Meanwhile in Canada, how much higher will gas prices go before people start petitioning the government to cut gas taxes to relieve the burden? But before that, let's keep in mind that despite the oil companies and those that profit on them, and their general love of lots and lots of money, gas use worldwide is growing, and we're swiftly running out of crude oil as well. 
Now we couldn't possibly stop all oil use in a day, but to begin to change things, that 66 per cent of people who will still drive despite the rising prices, but just drive less, have to start joining that other third that takes the bus, train, bike, or gets a ride with other people that are heading in the same direction. If you can take public transit, do it. You may have to leave your house a bit early, but the extra sleep you lose may pay dividends in the reduced stress you experience being behind the wheel while sitting in traffic.
No matter the reason, high gas prices now and in the future are inevitable. The problem is that no matter how angry people get, the vast majority would rather complain and keep driving rather than fight back in the surest way to make your voice heard to the oil companies: stop using their product, or use significantly less of it. Or think of it this way, on average, it costs just over $7,000 per year to own your car with gas, insurance, maintenance and all the associated costs. You'd have to work pretty hard ratcheting up a $7,000 annual bill on public transit by comparison. And you'd never have to worry about tomorrow's gas prices to boot.

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