Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Are the good times really over?

Merle Haggard - a favorite of mine - penned a song a few years back by that title. The chorus goes like this:

Are we rollin' downhill like a snowball headed for Hell?
With no kind of chance for the flag or the Liberty Bell?
I wish a Ford or a Chevy would still last ten years like they should.
Is the best of the free life behind us now, and are the good times really over for good?

The local newspaper (website) had a provocative headline this morning: "Have Idahoans hit their limit on gas prices?"

I s'pose if your definition of "good times" includes unlimited hummin' around in your Hummer, fueled by $1.50 gas, maybe the good times are over for good.

The article lists some of the side effects of the spiraling price of fuel:
- The VOLUME of gas sold in Idaho, compared with a year ago, is down 5-7 percent
- The Caldwell-Boise ValleyRide route ridership is up 40 percent
- 12 new commuter vans have been added, to meet demand.

The state is also taking in less money. First, because the gas tax is a fixed amount per gallon and sales are down. Second, because people are spending less on other goods and services, so as to afford gas. So sales tax is down.

Is ANY of that bad? Seriously! I see every one of those results as being a good thing!

I think it's fantastic that people are being more practical-minded in their car purchases, and buying a Prius instead of a Yukon XL. If they're smart, they'll also consider where they want to dwell, in relation to where they live their lives. Perhaps 20 years from now, there won't be quite so many people who live a 30-mile-each-way commute from the office and 10 miles from the nearest market. Maybe the average fuel economy will be up by 10mpg. Maybe public transportation will be the rule, rather than the exception. Maybe air pollution will be down significantly. Maybe in 2028, employers will provide locker rooms and showers for all the cyclists and walkers, the way they provide parking lots in 2008.

It's just too bad that people don't seem to be motivated to "do the right thing" unless not doing the right thing becomes painful in some way. There's absolutely NO reason that people couldn't ride the bus more, or buy an economical car and drive less, or carpool, or ride a bike or walk, if gas were $0.95 instead of $3.95.

Of course, I can't imagine the government sitting idly by and watching their revenues slip away. They're already lamenting that they need $250 million, just to bring the state's roads up to acceptable operating condition. You can bet they'll figure out a way to bleed the taxpayers a little more. (Having forgotten all about the Boston Tea Party!)

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