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#1 2012-04-04 19:01:01

MichaelBluejay
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From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-26
Posts: 1,168
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Higher gas prices don't cut driving that much

Higher gas prices haven't translated to much less driving.  Apparently people will keep driving no matter how much gas costs.

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0312/73965.html

Sometimes you can hear alt-transpo people saying, "We just need to make driving more expensive.  Then people will drive less."  But driving is *already* expensive.  And it was already expensive even before the surge in gas prices.

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#2 2012-04-05 23:36:14

dougmc
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Registered: 2008-06-01
Posts: 549

Re: Higher gas prices don't cut driving that much

MichaelBluejay wrote:

Sometimes you can hear alt-transpo people saying, "We just need to make driving more expensive.  Then people will drive less."  But driving is *already* expensive.  And it was already expensive even before the surge in gas prices.

Fine.  Then "driving just isn't expensive enough" (yet).

This isn't the sort of argument you can win.

Yes, we know the relationship between gasoline prices and how much people drive is a relatively inelastic -- but it's not completely inelastic.  If the price of gas goes up enough, fewer and fewer people will drive.   And even small increases do have an effect -- just a small one.

Give it time.

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#3 2012-04-06 08:09:10

jmayson
Member
Registered: 2008-06-28
Posts: 46

Re: Higher gas prices don't cut driving that much

I don't have the exact numbers right in front of me.  But I remember reading about The Netherlands versus the UK.  The Dutch have an enormous number of commuters who bicycle while in the UK it's around 1%.  Gasoline prices are roughly the same in both countries.  I personally thing it takes more than high gas prices.

Maybe it's speaking English that causes lack of bicycle ridership.

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#4 2012-04-06 11:11:37

dougmc
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Registered: 2008-06-01
Posts: 549

Re: Higher gas prices don't cut driving that much

jmayson wrote:

But I remember reading about The Netherlands versus the UK.  The Dutch have an enormous number of commuters who bicycle while in the UK it's around 1%.

The figures I've heard most recently 2009 are that in the Netherlands 27% of trips are made by bicycle, 1.3% in the UK and 0.9% in the US.

To pick a city and use some outdated (2004) stats ... in Amsterdam, they say 4% of trips are walked, 22% biked, 30% on mass transit, 44% in a personally owned car.  To use comparable data for London (page 42, year 2004) -- 21% walk, 1% cycle, 38% mass transit and 40% private car.  Of course, I'm comparing a well known city to a well known city here, not a country to a country -- modal share figures are usually given by city rather than country, and it's not clear that these figures were measured in the same way, but this does strongly suggest that maybe it's not cars vs. bikes but instead cars vs. bikes vs. walking vs. public transportation.

More to the point, OK, so the cycling modal share is 1% or 27% -- but that doesn't mean that the rest is cars.  It looks like a slighly smaller percentage of trips were made by car (remember, 2004) in London than Amsterdam, even though the folk in London don't seem to like bikes much and a lot more in Amsterdam do.  London has taken some really strong steps to discourage car use in the city recently -- but that was recently, well after these statistics were taken.

The Netherlands are a lot more densly populated than the UK -- 1050 people/mi^2 vs 662 people/mi^2.  (The US is even lower -- 87 people/mi?^2.)  That's probably a huge factor right there -- the more densely populated the place is, the shorter the trips you're likely to need to make, so the more likely a bicycle will work for you to make them.  Being flat certainly helps -- and I've heard Amsterdam is very flat.  Amsterdam may really be a perfect storm -- a large number of factors have coincided to make cycling attractive, and so people did it, and then the infrastructure to help do it went up, and more people did it ... but even in cycling nirvana, with gas prices double what they are in the US, the statistics say that more trips are made by cars than bicycles.

Gasoline prices are roughly the same in both countries.

About a year ago. prices in the UK were $7.84/gallon (using today's ratios of pence to dollar) and $8.39/gallon in the Netherlands (again, current euro/dollar conversion ratio.)  So pretty close.

I personally thing it takes more than high gas prices.

Well, certainly, high gasoline prices are only one of many factors.  If gasoline went up to $20/gallon, you'd find lots of people ditching their car.  If the government started a tax/toll of $0.50/mile you'd find lots of people ditching their car.  If the bus system improved, more people would use it.  If there were roads dedicated to bikes that people could feel safe riding on, more people would ride bikes.  If Austin magically became flat, more people would ride bikes.  If more people moved into densly packed cities, more people would ride bikes.  So many factors, gasoline is only one.

However, gasoline prices are likely to go up and up and up -- the politicians would like to stop this, but it's not really within their power to do so.  The rest of these facors are likely to stay the same -- the politicians aren't going to punish car drivers because most of their supporters drive cars.  And they certainly don't care about public transport -- that's only used by poor people who can't donate to their reelection campaigns (yes, I'm being somewhat sarcastic here, but it's a common view.)  And I don't think they can flatten Austin yet or make people move.  So all these factors are likely to stay the same in the near future -- except for gasoline prices, which are going up.  So if any one factor is the one that makes a change -- that's likely to be the one.  It might even push something over the tipping point, where other changes will be made as well.

Maybe it's speaking English that causes lack of bicycle ridership.

Yes, and they say it causes obesity too.  I've also heard it causes bad teeth (though a reason is given for this crazy idea -- that many English words cause your tongue to hit your teeth, pushing them out ...)

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#5 2012-04-06 12:47:14

jmayson
Member
Registered: 2008-06-28
Posts: 46

Re: Higher gas prices don't cut driving that much

I rereading all of my grammatical errors and spelling mistakes makes me wonder if I ever mastered the language.

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#6 2012-04-06 13:54:39

bizikletari
Member
Registered: 2009-03-18
Posts: 223

Re: Higher gas prices don't cut driving that much

jmayson wrote:

Maybe it's speaking English that causes lack of bicycle ridership.

In spite of how appealing the argument looks (I think on it almost daily), it doesn't seem to suffice. Not even in Spain, Italy or France —home of the three grand bike tours— bike ridership is close to that of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or our own Portland.

For that change to occur, it seems to require infrastructure creation, political willingness and a cultural shift.

Infrastructure Creation: Slowly, thanks to the city's BPP we are attaining the infrastructure; but it is very clear that even this improvement, due to the local car-centred culture and interests, is almost always either scaled down or segmented into discrete spaces creating a disconnected network wannabe. Think of W. 6th street as a good example; a great bike lane isolated in space.

Political Willingness: It is almost a truism to note the lack of political willingness from our local officials. The "compromises" resulting in the Shoal Creek fiasco, or the Nueces Bike Boulevard dismantled into two distorted versions of a real bike boulevard should be enough to rest the case. And yet, I will propose that the vote on the F1 development is a clear example showing where the priorities are for our politicos. Even our bike defender in office, councilmember Riley, gave them his vote reasoning it will bring green jobs to Austin.

Cultural Shift: But of course, the cultural shift not happening is our fault. Our personal and individual responsibilities. I accept that. Unfortunately, I can't  conjure the smiling energy required to convince at least the people in my neighborhood; or the parents in the school of my child. I am not a leader, that's clear, thus, I can only teach my children.
So far, the elder is driving.

(Perhaps it is the English after all)

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#7 2012-04-06 15:38:10

dougmc
Administrator
Registered: 2008-06-01
Posts: 549

Re: Higher gas prices don't cut driving that much

bizikletari wrote:

In spite of how appealing the argument looks (I think on it almost daily), it doesn't seem to suffice. Not even in Spain, Italy or France —home of the three grand bike tours— bike ridership is close to that of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or our own Portland.

For that change to occur, it seems to require infrastructure creation, political willingness and a cultural shift.

The Netherlands (is that singular or plural?) does heavily penalize car ownership too.  Last I heard they had a 180% luxury tax on new automobile purchases -- and even with that, with a well developed bicycle infrastructure, with expensive gas, with a flat, dense city -- they still have more trips taken by car than by bike (according to the most recent stats I've seen.  But it's close enough that perhaps the tables have turned since?)

At least here in the US, we might get some infrastructure.  I'm not holding my breath for any political willingness and a cultural shift seems even less likely.  As I see it, rising gas prices are our best hope.  They certainly won't do it by themselves (is 'rising gas prices" a singular or plural noun?), but maybe they can help trigger some other factors and then things will change.  Slightly at first, and then we'll see if the change continues.

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#8 2012-04-06 16:39:34

jmayson
Member
Registered: 2008-06-28
Posts: 46

Re: Higher gas prices don't cut driving that much

I spend a lot of time in Malaysia.  There's a 100% import duty on cars.  Malaysian-built cars in theory should be half the cost of a comparable import, but they aren't, it's more like 75-80%.  Their annual road tax is steep depending on the engine size.  A 1.9 liter engine has a tax of RM330 (USD 110) but a 2.7 liter engine is RM1,380 (USD 450).  A 6.8 liter Ford Excursion would run you RM19,230 (USD 6,275) over there.  However petrol is subsidized and set at RM1.90/liter (USD 2.35/gallon).  There's virtually no free parking, at least in Penang, but it's cheap, just a ringgit or two for several hours.

They're more car crazy there than we are.  Bicycles are for poor people and the buses drive around empty.

In the end, driving is more expensive over there than here.  And considering their wages are lower than here, that makes driving even more of an expense.  But everyone has a car it seems and traffic is a freakin' nightmare (yes, I do drive while I'm there).  I'm told the number of motorbikes has declined steeply in the past 10 years as the country becomes more affluent and more can afford cars.

Doug, I'll have to ask my English teacher wife, but I think "The Netherlands" and "rising gas prices" are both singular.  ;-)

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