Marylanders appreciate the environment, worry about global warming and love their cars. But gasoline prices approaching $4 a gallon are prompting thousands of commuters to park their first love and take buses or trains to work instead.
The move to mass transportation is a smart decision and an important first step away from the wasteful use of gasoline that threatens to choke the U.S economy. This is a rare opportunity to capitalize on the public’s revulsion over gas prices and convince suburbanites that mass transit is in their interest.
The Maryland Transit Administration has asked the state Board of Public Works for $3.5 million to add extra runs to weekday bus service linking Howard County as well as Western and Southern Maryland with Washington. A new $4.5 million MARC station at the Edgewood stop was recently given a green light, and MARC is adding evening commuter rail service from Washington – and it’s about time!
In Maryland and across the country, politicians are promising to fight high gas prices by cutting fuel taxes, suspending contributions to the strategic petroleum reserve and opening environmentally sensitive areas to drilling. But none of these strategies is likely to work. Gas prices are rising because the global supply is limited, and little can be done to significantly increase the supply and hold down prices.
America’s love of the car and its promise of unlimited mobility has been fueled by cheap gas, encouraging the purchase of SUVs and suburban homes far from work. Even in today’s market, gasoline prices in America are significantly lower than elsewhere. Gas costs an average of $8 a gallon across much of Europe, because of high gas taxes used to subsidize mass transit systems.
Consumption there has been basically flat since 1980. In contrast, America’s use of oil has been up 21 percent over the same period. And with gas prices soaring now, the popular SUV is suffering – sales were down more than 20 percent in March.
Oil prices may dip in the near future, but experts say continued significant increases are inevitable. Americans are going to have to find ways to continue tightening their belts by using public transportation, buying more fuel-efficient cars and making substantial long-term investments in mass transportation.
Maryland, with much of its population packed tightly along corridors served by rail, has some significant advantages. More efficient use of oil will help us fight global warming. High prices offer a good reason to act now, but the energy outlook for the future demands it.
Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun