No Light Rail in Vancouver!
Gas Crisis, version 2008
The U.S. went through a couple of gas crises in the 1970s, and now we are in the midst of another one. High prices at the pump have got politicians debating about drilling for oil in ANWR, off shore, and other places.
Recently, the Antiplanner’s esteemed colleagues and faithful allies, Indur Goklany and Jerry Taylor, pointed out that gas is actually less expensive today, when measured proportionate to personal incomes, than it was in 1960. Jerry (who has also been debating whether or not to drill for oil in the L.A. Times) expands on this point, with charts, on the Cato blog.
The point they were making is that we aren’t really in a serious crisis, and politicians
should not rush to adopt ill-
According to the Highway Use of Motor Fuel tables in Highway Statistics (link goes
to 2006 table; for pre-
Click to see a larger version.
The chart above, which is from tables 2.1 and 2.5.5 of the Department of Commerce’s National Income and Product Account data, shows that, since 1949, Americans have spent between 8 and 10 percent of their personal incomes on autos, including buying, operating, maintaining, and insuring them. Included in that 8 to 10 percent is 2 and 4 percent of incomes spent on gas & oil. The chart also shows total miles of driving from Highway Statistics.
Look carefully at the gas shocks of the 1970s. When gas prices went up, the share of incomes people spent on gasoline jumped — especially in the late 1970s. Miles of driving declined slightly, but quickly recovered and continued to grow at the same rate as before the crises. Curiously, the share of incomes people spent on autos as a whole fell when the share spent on gas went up. A close look at the data reveals that, when gas prices went up, spending on new autos went down.
Interestingly, American’s spent 2.9 percent of their incomes on gasoline in 2007 — exactly the same as they spent in 1960. Increases in consumption were cancelled by the increases in income. What made high gas prices painful in 2007, and makes them more painful today, was that, as recently as 2002, we spent only 1.9 percent of our incomes on gas.
Click to see a larger version.
The chart above, which is based on miles of driving and fuel used for highways tables
in Highway Statistics, shows that when Americans started buying autos again after
the 1970s oil shocks, they bought more fuel-
Americans adjusted to higher fuel prices in other ways too. In 1970, the average
car on the road was only 5.6 years old. Today, it is more than 9 years old, indicating
either that consumers are demanding longer-
Transit ridership ticked up during the 1970’s gas crises, but like today, transit didn’t help most people the. In 1974, urban driving declined by about 12 billion vehicle miles (something more than 19 billion passenger miles), while transit passenger miles increased by about 1.4 billion. In 1979, urban driving fell by 14 billion passenger miles, while transit passenger miles grew by 1.7 billion.
Still, people substituted transit for 7 to 12 percent of their reductions in driving in the 1970s, compared with only 3 percent in 2008, suggesting that — despite hundreds of billions in transit capital investments — transit is even less useful and flexible today than it was in the 1970s. But as useful as transit might have been in the 1970s, it didn’t last: by 1995, ridership had fallen almost as low as it was in 1970, before the gas shocks.
Despite transit’s pitiful record, we see transit groups trying to turn high gas prices to their advantage. They aren’t trying to entice people to ride transit; they are trying to persuade lawmakers to devote more subsidies to it.
I suspect Indur and Jerry are worried that politicians will do something really dumb,
like instituting price controls or subsidizing oil shale production (remember synfuels?).
I am only worried that politicians will do something pretty dumb, like spending billions
more on inflexible rail transit systems or mandating land-
Yes, high gas prices are painful. But we will adjust, as we did in the 1970s, by
slowing our purchases of other things (like new cars), buying more fuel-
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Reprinted from The Antiplanner