$3 a Gallon? That's Nothing!

© Douglas E. Morris

Published in 3 newspapers - October 2005

Groton Independent, Groton S.D

Cordova Times, Cordova AK

Magic City Morning Star, Magic City ME


Without a doubt, gas is now incredibly expensive. However, even without the recent rise in fuel prices, automobiles would still be a severe drain on every AmericansŐ bank account. Simply by having no other viable transportation options, each America family will spend a whopping $560,000 over a thirty-year span just on automobiles.


Many Americans wonder why they are struggling to make ends meet. All they have to do is look out in the driveway to see the reason.


Essentially, since the 1950s, while Europe has been diversifying their transportation system with extensive passenger rail, commuter rail, trolley lines, and Metro systems, America has predominantly been building more and more roads. This forces American families to own two cars so that one partner is not trapped in suburbia. With an average car costing $20,000, an annual price inflation of five percent, finance charges of ten percent per car, and exchanging cars every seven years, we will spend $440,000 on cars during a thirty-year period. Combine that with regular maintenance, gas, and insurance, which comes to about $4,000 per year, or $120,000 over thirty years, and each American family will spend over a half a million dollars just on automobiles.


In comparison, if our urban landscape and transportation systems were designed so that we could commute easily and inexpensively by public transportation, as is the case in European nations, Americans would spend only $72,000 over the same thirty-year period. This figure is arrived at by assuming a commuting cost of $6 a day. In a 200-workday year that comes to $1,200 a year. Over thirty years that is a mere $36,000. Multiply that by two people, and it comes to only $72,000 as compared to $560,000.


If our physical landscape was designed so that we could walk places, take public transit, and were not so completely dependent on cars, we could conceivably save close to half a million dollars. With that kind of money we could put our kids through college, buy a second home, work less, vacation more, or retire sooner. If only we had some viable transportation options besides the automobile.


Well, believe it or not, we used to. America once had the most extensive and diversified transportation systems in the world. It may be hard to imagine, but L.A., the current poster child for all that is wrong with our automobile over-dependent society, once boasted the most extensive mass transit system on the globe.


The Pacific Electric Railway served the entire Los Angeles area and contained 1,164 miles of trolley tracks. However, back in the 1940s, the Pacific Electric Railway, as well as trolley systems in nearly 150 cities all over America, was illegally put out of business by a cartel of auto and oil companies. All so Americans would be forced to buy cars.


No, this is not some wild, second shooter on the grassy knoll, conspiracy theory. This actually happened, and the companies that perpetrated this crime were convicted of their unlawful acts in a federal court in 1949. However, an FBI investigation a few months later found that this conviction had little impact on the auto/oil cartelŐs actions. Trolley systems continued to be bought up and illegally dismantled well into the 1960s.


The result is that today we are stuck in traffic, burning expensive gasoline, all while mortgaging our future. We are in this predicament because our government, with generous support from certain special interests, does not support transportation options other than building more roads. So, even if gas prices go down, we are still going to have our bank accounts drained because owning cars is so expensive. It is time we started realizing that America needs a European-style diversified transportation system.


Our financial security and quality of life depend on it.


Douglas E. Morris is the author of It's a Sprawl World After All (www.ItsaSprawlWorld.com).