Getting Around

I guess we’re not alone with the big increases in the cost of feeding our cars. And we’re certainly not at the top of the charts when it comes to gas prices.

But with prices surging past 1.40 euro a liter in France (about $8.20 a gallon)…

However, when it comes to conserving fuel and developing transportation alternatives, most European countries are already miles ahead of the US.

Highways are filled with fuel-efficient Smart cars and Minis, most cities have highly developed public transportation systems, and green-minded policies have spawned everything from special bicycle lanes to downtown congestion charges. Now the current surge in the price of oil has many Europeans asking how much leaner they can become.

Considering most American cities, the DC area has a pretty good public transportation system – IF you’re traveling to and from the federal district.

If you need to get between two places in the suburbs, which is my daily pattern, you’re pretty much out of luck.

As to imposing a congestion charge for driving in the district, can you imagine what would happen if the DC government proposed such a thing?

The energy produced by their Congressional nannies railing against it could power the city for years to come.

Almost Like Price Fixing

The oil company executives who were paraded before a Congressional hearing last week uniformly offered the same message.

Don’t blame us for high gas prices. Blame the law of supply and demand; “market forces” at work.

Except that, when it comes to the retail end of things, they have a big hand in those “market forces”.

Every time Sohaila Rezazadeh rings up a sale at her Exxon station on Chain Bridge Road in Oakton, her cash register sends the information to Exxon Mobil’s central computers. If she raises the price of gasoline a couple of pennies, chances are that Exxon will raise the wholesale price she pays by the same amount.

Credit-card fees are eating her profit margins. Exxon, which owns the station land, last week handed Rezazadeh a new lease raising her rent about 30 percent over the next three years.

The high prices are not as disturbing as what seems to be the price fixing illustrated in this story.

The Silver Lining?

Is it possible there might be something good about the run up in gas prices?

Soaring gas prices have turned the steady migration by Americans to smaller cars into a stampede.

In what industry analysts are calling a first, about one in five vehicles sold in the United States was a compact or subcompact car during April, based on monthly sales data released Thursday. Almost a decade ago, when sport utility vehicles were at their peak of popularity, only one in every eight vehicles sold was a small car.

The switch to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles has been building in recent years, but has accelerated recently with the advent of $3.50-a-gallon gas. At the same time, sales of pickup trucks and large sport utility vehicles have dropped sharply.

In another first, fuel-sipping four-cylinder engines surpassed six-cylinder models in popularity in April.

It would be nice if this would also lead to a demand for the government to increase research into alternative energy sources and to wean us off of imported fossil fuels.

But if history is any indicator, there’s no reason to be optimistic.

When prices drop to a level that most people will accept as “normal”, they’ll go back to buying oversized ego machines.