The Daily Ping

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May 18th, 2004

Gas Price Breaking Point

Gas is getting more expensive in America. That’s no surprise to anyone – just visit your nearest service station, and you’ll see the evidence.

Last week I was perusing the Chicago Tribune’s site, reading an article on the gas situation. There was a poll that accompanied the piece, asking what one’s “breaking point” would be for gas: the price when you decide it’s just not worth getting anymore.

The choices were $2/gallon, $3/gallon, $4/gallon, and $5/gallon.

For me it was pretty easy: $3/gallon. Denver is already in the low $2.00 range, and I know some areas of California are up near or over $3.00. But if everything got to $3/gallon (and California skyrocketed to $27.99/gallon) I suspect people would start reconsidering public transportation and gas-guzzling light trucks. The sad thing is that, in some areas, public transit just isn’t an option. Which means the oil companies have us over a barrel. (Get it? Barrel? Oil? Hah!)

I was surprised that more than a few people said $5/gallon, though. What about you?

Posted in Cars

FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 9:07:17 am
Once gas topped $3/gallon, I'd certainly be pushing to work from home a few days a week and curtailing distance travelling. Fortunately, I generally get between 25 and 30 mpg, so it wouldn't hit me as hard as, say, someone driving that new beast I saw in the parking lot at work yesterday whose sticker read "City - 15mpg, Highway - 17mpg."



FROM: Chris [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 9:33:26 am
And of course, the universal rule of EPA mileage estimates is to multiply by 75% to get a more realistic number.

I take a bus to work now, so for me the gas price isn't much of an issue. I fill up once a month at present. Although I suspect the bus service will be raising prices soon to compensate for their increased fuel prices.




FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 9:36:43 am
This all reminds me, I need to get active on GasPriceWatch.com again.



FROM: Matt
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 9:50:56 am
We can all sit here and talk about our limits, or we can talk about what is the reasoning for these outrageous prices? Has there ever been a legitimate answer as to why the prices are skyrocketing? How come I was able to get gas for 77 cents four years ago in Fredericksburg, and now it's $2 everywhere? What can we as citizens do about the prices? You can sit here and suggest public transportation, but the oil companies are doing this to control the populace.



FROM: Dave Walls [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 10:16:46 am
I don't think anyone is really innocent in the gas price debcale. Oil Companies are killing us by reducing production and hiking the prices, and stupid people aren't helping by driving huge ass SUV's that get less mileage than a Winnebago.

I've heard people offer the idea of tapping into the oil we possess in Alaska to help ease the burden. While that would provide a temporary solution, I don't think it addresses the real issue. Too many SUV's with poor gas mileage. Why wouldnt the oil companies sit back and relax with high gas prices when they know we use a lot for our Escalades? We're a nation designed to drive around, and to drive in comfort.

We can all talk about limits, but put it this way. Have you seen any shorter lines at the pumps? Neither have I.



FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 10:44:51 am
The one good thing that may come out of this is an increase in consumer interest for alternatively-fueled cars. The oil industry will fight it to the death, that's for sure, but I think this would be a case where if the consumer demand were high enough, the focus would shift.

Of course, I may be giving consumers too much credit.



FROM: Cat [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 11:18:50 am
WARNING: SOAPBOX SPEECH AHEAD.

We made a mistake. Possibly one that will be our undoing. We took what we *knew* was a finite resource, and built an entire lifestyle around it. Sprawling suburbs and zoning laws that prevented people from working close to home, to mention just the first two that come to mind. I won't even get into the notorious American sense of entitlement re: cars and low gas prices.

So...oops. Our bad. The question now is how much we can change before we have no choice. Hybrids are already gaining ground, and urban multi-use zoning is taking off in many cities.

This is a good place to start for anyone interested in the future of oil production:

http://www.peakoil.org/

As for me, I walk.

END SOAPBOX.



FROM: Monica
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 12:51:22 pm
amen, Cat!! You know what's really sad? That there's actually something called a "driving season". But that's tied into school schedules and is a whole other issue.
This is a timely discussion, since it's National Bike Month, and this very week is Bike-to-Work week.



FROM: Animat3d
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 1:51:47 pm
gas prices are getting out of hand. its crazy. we are the consumer and we should not have to pay 2$ for gas. we should only pay what it was here b4 this all happened. like 1$25 cents.. or something. this is crazy



FROM: Joseph
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 2:23:43 pm
I would be all for bike to work because I enjoy bikes and biking quite a bit. The problem for me is, I wear a suit to work which I really shouldn't sweat in. Doh! Stupid sweat! I would wear street clothes and change outfits, but nowhere to change!
I already drive a Yugo (I've made the last three comments on the Yugo ping) so I'm not the one burning all the gas. The other car is a MINI, good on gas, too (but not as good as the twenty year old Yugo is--very very sad).
Public mass transportation sucks. By that, I mean busses. If you live in a modern city that uses rails, you have the best alternative. The truth is, in cities where a good rail system exists, most people really choose not to drive because who really wants to drive and deal with parking?

People used to make fun of the Yugo driver, but who's laughing at the gas pump now?



FROM: Greg
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 2:38:24 pm
I use my car a lot for work so it's not like I can bike or take public transportation. However, if gas hit $4 a gallon, I would have to reconsider visiting clients and job sites.

Also, does everyone realize that Exxon/Mobile, only one of many oil companies, made $28 billion dollars last year?



FROM: Paul
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 3:11:19 pm
Joseph: By that, I mean busses. If you live in a modern city that uses rails, you have the best alternative. The truth is, in cities where a good rail system exists, most people really choose not to drive because who really wants to drive and deal with parking?

I agree in principle. Denver has a very small light rail system and a pretty large bus system. I always prefer trains because they aren't subject to traffic. And traffic is bad everywhere. Why? Because not enough people take public transit.

Also: the cheapest gas I can remember in my lifetime was 89 cents a gallon.



FROM: Aaron [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 4:31:39 pm
A year ago, Internet forums across the land were aflame with claims that we would be bathing in free gasoline once Iraq was liberated. Come on, you promised!

Before drilling in Alaska or uncorking the strategic reserves, should the federal government look into how speculation in the oil commodities market is also driving up prices?



FROM: aharris
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 4:51:00 pm
I live in the city so my #1 (only) means of transportation is public transportation. CA is unsurprisingly (w/ all the tree-huggin'-protesters) good about public transportation. A transfer can last quite a while and you can use it on any method (subway, bus, rail, etc).

I sure don't miss traffic and I definitely don't miss >$2/gallon.



FROM: Matt
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 5:59:23 pm
I've been wondering for years why in the hell aren't we all driving electric cars? Then I remember that the whole capitalistic structure is controlled by others and they dictate when we will drive whatever they want us to.



FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 7:17:44 pm
People used to make fun of the Yugo driver, but who's laughing at the gas pump now?

Good for you, Joseph! I say the same thing about my Kia. :) People love to joke about it, but I'm at nearly 100,000 miles with no major repairs needed and I'm getting as much as 35mpg on the highway (generally about 28 with normal to-and-from work driving). Not to mention I could have charged it on my credit card!

Also: the cheapest gas I can remember in my lifetime was 89 cents a gallon.

I'm sure I mentioned this elsewhere on the Ping at some point, but when they built a Wawa across from a Racetrac in Fredericksburg 3-4 years ago, there was one weekend that they had a price war and one of them was selling for 50 cents a gallon. No kidding.

What other commodity can you think of whose price could potentially jump 300-500% in four years?



FROM: Chris
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 9:22:41 pm
Of course, if we all use electric cars where is all that power gonna come from when we plug in at night to recharge? Coal powered plants? Nuclear power plants? It's not that simple. Even the hydrogen cars that the greenies are so excited about have issues. H is natually occuring, H2 is not, it comes with an O that you have to eliminate. You need H2 for the cars, and it takes a boatload of energy to get it.

Expanding public transit is a fine idea. If we start tomorrow it will be 5-10 years before any significant increase in the DC metro system. And that assumes it doesn't all get tied up in court with environmental issues and NIMBYism when the expansion plans hit the street.

There are no easy answers. Oil is still the most effecient power source we have. The reason we import vresus drill in the US and Canada is that a lot of the oil is North America is shale oil, it is not cost effective to drill for it when gas sells for a buck or even 2 bucks a gallon. It's cheaper to ship it in from Saudi Arabia.



FROM: Monica
DATE: Tuesday May 18, 2004 -- 11:15:52 pm
Oil is only efficient because of existing infrastructure, though. Overall, combustion isn't a very efficient process. There's a lot of energy lost to heat, for one. It still might be the most efficient energy source if you're in a windless, always cloudy, no running-water-nearby environment, though! (you know, the kind of place you'd need an SUV to get to!)



FROM: Rory
DATE: Wednesday May 19, 2004 -- 4:44:11 am
Gas has been over $3 a gallon in Europe for several years. People keep on driving. They do use public transportation more, and it's generally much better and more available. Europeans drive smaller cars and their cars have better gas mileage.

But miles driven per household still keeps going up.

I suspect that those of us who say that $3 is our breaking point will find that when it comes to it - and it will - our breaking point somehow shifts to $4. And we'll keep on driving.

As a society, we're addicts.



FROM: Barbara
DATE: Wednesday May 19, 2004 -- 8:23:52 am
The average distance a person drives to work continues to increase. My round trip to work is about 60 miles. If gas was $5 a gallon I would still buy it and possibly try and negociate working from home a couple days a week.



FROM: Joseph
DATE: Wednesday May 19, 2004 -- 9:49:16 am
Rory's comment about addiction is appropriate.

I decided to stop smoking cigarettes if they went up to $3 a pack. I actually quit ten years ago when they were still only $2.10.

Deciding not to pay for gas isn't as easy as deciding to stop smoking cigarettes because we need to drive (and I recognize the bad reasons why we need to drive in this country).

In order to stop smoking cigarettes, one really has to undergo a complete change in lifestyle. No more friends who smoke (because they will tempt you and scorn your efforts); no more alcohol until the painful urge to smoke even after one beer ends (this usually takes at least a year); and no safety pack for those unbeatable emergency urges. Most people who are addicted fail to quit, by the way.

In order to give up gas, the entire country needs to undergo a complete change in lifestyle. It may be easy to undergo a personal change in lifestyle, where you organize everything yourself. But, unfortunately, there is no one to organize the switch away from gas.

The only way we as a nation will switch is when there is no longer any profit in the gasoline business, which means when there is no gas left to drill.

Gas could go up to $10 a gallon and people will still buy it. There would be less gas used, just as the high price of cigarettes has caused people to quit or reduce the amount they smoke.

On the other hand, high prices have also caused smoking to be even more of a status symbol. You have to be rich to smoke now--and be willing to carry $9 in quarters if you want to buy a pack at the bar! Nevertheless, cigarette companies still make billions and cigarettes will be around for a very long time.

Gas will be the same. Those who can pay a high price will, and those who can't won't. Because the production of gas was so cheap in the past, gas companies have huge profit reserves to get them through any hard times. And unlike cigarette manufacturers, I doubt they'll be sued by taxpayers for health care costs paid out of the state budget for dying smokers--so I don't see any hard times coming.

The unofficial underground National NO GAS day is something like May 19--I got a chain email about it. People are planning somehow to avoid going to the pump on May 19 to cause gas companies one day's loss of profit. But it won't work just to avoid the pump one day but still drive. May 19 will merely be bookended by higher than normal gas sales if people still use the same amount of gas.






FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Wednesday May 19, 2004 -- 10:35:00 am
May 19 will merely be bookended by higher than normal gas sales if people still use the same amount of gas.

Which is exactly why those lazy one-day boycotts will never work.

It will definitely take a lifestyle shift in order for us to move away from our heavy gas consumption... the question is, what will be the final straw that forces the majority of us to really rethink our own consumption?



FROM: Joseph
DATE: Wednesday May 19, 2004 -- 11:32:48 am
Hey! Today is May 19! So much for the boycott. I'm about a week behind.



FROM: Greg
DATE: Wednesday May 19, 2004 -- 4:38:01 pm
And nobody's commented about how this gas price increase might be helping George W's oil friends in Texas.



FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Wednesday May 19, 2004 -- 7:30:32 pm
Some things go without saying, I guess.



FROM: towinlovinit
DATE: Thursday May 20, 2004 -- 9:48:36 am
Living in Portland where we have the most surberb public transportation in the world, makes you wonder why we even have any cars. I don't mind the public trans. (we have a new max train now) I can get anywhere, even outside of Portland by bus. All in all, I still love to drive. It's hard to get to Mt. Hood by bus, so I still drive when I go to very rural areas. Can you imagine walking the 25 miles or so to get to the ski slope?



FROM: Paul
DATE: Thursday May 20, 2004 -- 10:08:20 am
Ryan: the question is, what will be the final straw that forces the majority of us to really rethink our own consumption?

I'm growing more and more convinced that it will have to be something incredibly destructive. Some sort of natural disaster, or (frankly) war on our soil. I think that would be the only thing. People are consistently told that oil won't be around terribly longer, and it makes no difference. Mind boggling.



FROM: Steve K
DATE: Saturday March 5, 2005 -- 2:57:32 am
I bought a Honda Insight 1 year after 9/11. I knew that gasoline was going to become a political issue in a short amount of time. I was right. Now I can continue driving where I need to go and pay $25 a month for gas at 60 mpg. Many people say they look good driving an SUV, but I look really smart driving my hybrid.



FROM: Paul
DATE: Saturday March 5, 2005 -- 8:16:36 am
Nice job, Steve. I love me some hybrids, that's for sure.



FROM: Citizen Me
DATE: Wednesday August 31, 2005 -- 7:20:08 pm
Does anyone really think this will work? Compare the amount of gas consumers use VS the amount used by bus lines, public transportation, trucking companies, state/local/federal government vehicles, the US Postal Service, package delivery companies, and the local businesses like flower shops & pizza/sub restaurants that deliver. You're wasting your time. Want to see the economy improve? Elect a decent president next time.



FROM: Paul
DATE: Wednesday August 31, 2005 -- 8:49:15 pm
Don't blame me; I voted for Kodos!



Paul May 6, 2007, 3:42 am

Man, I was way off in my original Ping:

“But if everything got to $3/gallon (and California skyrocketed to $27.99/gallon) I suspect people would start reconsidering public transportation and gas-guzzling light trucks.”

Not true: gas is well over $3 both in Chicago and in SF ($3.33 and $3.69 respectively for 87 octane) and no diff. Opps!

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