“Crisis” Mode AAA Urges Panicked Drivers to Take Transit

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Drivers, elected officials and the Daily News are freaking out as city gas prices hit $4 a gallon. The hysteria has reached such a pitch that AAA New York is doing the unthinkable, advising drivers to reduce consumption.

It costs so much to fuel up that the American Automobile Association is urging its members to leave their cars at home and take public transportation.

"We are in the midst of a crisis," AAA’s New York spokesman Robert Sinclair declared. "People have to be very discreet in their use of motor vehicles. If you can, use public transport."

Not that drivers need AAA to tell them what to do. Area demand has dropped by 3 percent as average gas prices in New York state have reached a record high $3.66 a gallon, according to the News.

Naturally, any retailer charging a few cents more faces accusations of gouging. 

"I am outraged," said City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), who yesterday saw two stations near his Tremont Ave. office charging $3.99 a gallon. "They’re on a highway and obviously think they have people captive to that price."

Vacca’s outrage won’t be tamped by news from Washington, where Congress was to hear testimony yesterday from the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. After 20 months of study, the commission has issued a report suggesting that the federal gasoline tax be raised to 40 cents per gallon, up from the current 18.4 cents, over five years. Other recommendations include tolls and — you guessed it — congestion pricing.

Aside from shifting more of the burden for transportation funding to motorists, the one thing all of these measures have in common is unpopularity among electeds. Reports CNN:

Any increase [in the gas tax] would be a surprise. The gas tax has held steady for about
15 years, and lawmakers have been quick to say they expect no big
changes.

UPDATE: Added to the top of the Daily News story:

Have you seen a gas station charging $4 or more per gallon? Let us know. E-mail The Daily News at news@nydailynews.com

What will tomorrow’s headline be?

Photo: New York Daily News

  • Pat

    too bad AAA opposed congestion pricing. only a small percentage of their NY members would have paid the charge, while all would benefit from improved transit options.

  • mike

    That photo says it all.

  • Mark Walker

    The Daily News story, unlike many, actually gets close to the main reason for higher gas prices, a worldwide peak in oil production: “Runaway prices in the past have been blamed on rising demand and refinery outages caused by Hurricane Katrina and other major storms. Now, record-high costs for crude oil and the weakening dollar are to blame.”

    In other words, high gas prices aren’t a corporate conspiracy. They’re dictated by the geology of the earth and its finite resources.

    Oil closed at more than $119 a barrel yesterday.

    The guy in the pic looks young and fit. He can get around on a bike.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Remember Anthony Weiner promised that he would get all the money the NY area needs for transit from the federal government if we didn’t pass congestion pricing. PROMISED.

    But I don’t expect him to deliver this year. I expect him to deliver next year, after the federal election, but before the Mayoral election.

    How can we fund the MTA Capital Plan?

    o Hidden $billions, promised by the City and State Comptroller’s offices every time a fare increase is proposed.

    o Brodsky’s $billions.

    o Weiner’s $billions.

    Until all of the above are prepared to admit that they are full of it, I don’t want to be asked for anything else.

  • Larry Littlefield

    By the way, residential and business location patterns have developed in a way that makes mass transit impossible for most trips. And we don’t have the money or the energy to replace all the McMansions and SUVs overnight.

    AAA would be better off advocating carpooling.

  • R2

    YES! YES! YES!

    How high can gas prices go? It’s not even the summer driving season yet!

  • mike

    Larry- weiner has gotten 15m from the feds for ferries and the city wont use them.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Fifteen years the gas tax has held steady against inflation while all other expenses of transportation have increased, by my assumption that is about a 400% decrease in the percentage taxed. The real news here is not that gas taxes have to go up but rather that they have to stop going down.

    Additionally, this phenomena is not unique to Federal Taxes but to Petroleum Business Taxes (PBT) in NY as well. What New York should do is shed the old formula and attach a percentage to the price of gas. New York produces no oil and we produce excellent mass transit, to make that substitution is not something even David Ricardo would object to.

  • uSkyscraper

    I think the issue of the price of diesel has been really underreported. For years there has been an emphasis on getting more Americans to use diesel, which can be quite clean and certainly more efficient than gasoline. I don’t know the specific figure, but a substantial number (majority?) of passenger cars in Europe are sold as diesel, and even Canada has far more diesels on the road. This has not exactly caught on in the US though most public transit vehicles certainly use diesel engines.

    Diesel has undergone a much larger spike than gas over the last year. What used to be a less-expensive fuel is now up to 60 cents a gallon MORE expensive. This is clobbering diesel owners and public transit agencies. Is there anything in the tax/regulatory structure that could help fix this? I’m not arguing for more auto use – I’m just trying to favor diesel over gas.

  • Shemp

    Since Brodsky hates the “ability to pay” criterion for regulating travel, where is his legislation to subsidize gas purchases by lower income drivers – can’t we do better than Venezuela or Qatar?

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Larry- weiner has gotten 15m from the feds for ferries and the city wont use them.)

    What a joke. But a “b” in front of that “illions” and we can talk.

    If the transit system goes into a freefall, you are going to see tons of tiny earmarks and member items for transportation. This way those who made the decisions that led to catastrophie can insulate themselves from blame.

    Ever notice how many NYC earnmarks are for parks, libraries, and schools? Well guess what public services have been massively underfunded relative to the national average, as measured by spending as a share of the income of city residents, FOREVER. THE SAME ONES!

    SCAM SCAM SCAM.

    I want $30 billion. The MTA assumed $8.5 billion in federal money Weiner’s share is an additional $4.8 billion (lost CP revenues), WITHOUT ANY DEAL TO SACRIFICE SOMETHING ELSE LIKE FEDERAL HOUSING OR EDUCATION $. He should get to work if he wants to prove me wrong.

  • Brandon

    Gas prices are still underpriced.

  • Dave

    AAA is just like Bush on flip-flopping; he is now supposedly energy conscious but do we remember how he once encouraged Americans to use more oil? Pathetic.

    On a tangent, I think McCain’s plan to roll back the Federal Tax is a horrible idea; we actually need to raise gasoline taxes to discourage driving and raise funds for transit.

    Of course there are people who have long commutes in SUV’s with low mileage (and probably more than a few of them are also impacted by the subprime mortgage mess) who will scream and yell.

    But we need to ignore these complaints and hold people accountable for their lifestyle choices: where to live, what to drive. I am tired of bailing out people who bought more than they can afford, bought the wrong car, etc.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (I think McCain’s plan to roll back the Federal Tax is a horrible idea)

    Clinton endorsed it. I thought better of both of them.

    I disagree with The Prince that it is a smart, if ethically questionable move. Gasoline may be over $4.00 per gallon this summer.

    Another candidate could point out that 25 years of pandering put us in this position, and here they are proposing an 18 cent per gallon rollback — at the expense of our infrastructure — as a solution for a $2.50 per gallon run up our dependence caused.

  • brian goldner

    HEY NEW YORK – THANKS FOR NOT APPROVING CONGESTION PRICING – WAY TO LIVE UP TO YOUR REPUTATION AS BEING THE BEST PLACE FOR TRANSIT IN AMERICA – NOW THE REST OF US WILL HAVE TO WAIT ANOTHER 2 DECADES FOR IT!

  • Moser

    I think Brian Goldner is the dude in the photo.

  • John Deere

    It’s not a crisis. This situation at the gas pump is permanent. A crisis, by definition, has a deadline.

    If there is a crisis, it’s the looming food crisis brought on by farmers switching to biofuel crops , coupled with massively increased costs of production for energy intensive agriculture practiced in developing countries. The crisis is people starving because they can’t afford food. The crisis is NOT people having to pay more to drive their Hummer 2 miles to the grocery store.

  • The cost of gas has nothing to do with that ill thought out tax on Brooklyn and Queens. Maybe they should toll all the roads on Long Island to discourage driving AND suburban development. The suburbs are outgrowing the city.

    http://demographia.blogspot.com/2008/04/more-than-90-of-metropolitan-growth-in.html

    In fact, they make up over 90% of growth in the region. Until that changes, a tax on Brooklyn and Queens just makes no sense except to rip Brooklyn and Queens from the fabric of their own city.

    Regardless of the price of gas, or the suggested ill-conceived tax on Brooklyn and Queens, people will continue to try to drive in because their coming from further and further away at great cost to the environment.

    Until you change this trend, they can shove the Brooklyn and Queens tax where the sun don’t shine.

    Toll the LIE and the Garden State.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Smart was perhaps a poor choice of words Larry, I think shrewd would be more precise. Of course it is stupid as policy but who really cares about smart policy in an election year. The electorate is really, really, really dumb and thats what makes dumb policy that appeals to dumb people really smart.

    By the way, I think those are the shoals that pierce the hull of the good ship Obama. Obama, allegedly, appeals to the smart voter, pushing the line that politics “as usual” is based on little negative, gotcha moments. Supposedly, his appeal to the voters better instincts will draw “new voters” to the polls who will become agents of “change”.

    I don’t buy it, as much as I wish it was true. I think the new voters are basically not a lot different from the old voters, except that they were too stupid to have voted in the past.

    The gas tax will be a good opportunity for O’Bama to distinguish himself. First McCain, then Clinton pandered to cutting the gas tax. Will O’Bama do the right thing, step up to the plate and speak truth to power? I’m not holding my breath.

    I think he was a big Ethanol booster in Iowa (what a progressive group those Iowa people are to vote for a black man). And coal gasification was popular for him in his home state of Illinois. On energy policy so far he has been equally as progressive as Pataki.

  • Check again, Ruben. The site you linked to says that only 57.2% of NYC-area population growth is in the suburbs. The only cities with similar numbers are Jacksonville and Oklahoma City (?), and the only cities with lower suburban growth share are San Antonio and San Jose. Basically, the suburbs have been growing a little more than the city, but barely, and they’re probably stopping now with the gas prices what they are.

    Regardless of the official definition of “suburb,” if you spend most of your time driving, you’re living a suburban lifestyle, Mr. Brooklyn. The whole point of congestion pricing was to get people like you to act more like Brooklynites and less like Lynbrook-ites. Silly us, what were we thinking?

  • Make up your mind. When trying to shove this thing down my throat it was claimed almost nobody in Brooklyn would be affected because we don’t drive in. Now you admit that it’s designed to keep Brooklynites out of Manhattan with our cars.

    It’s nonsense.

    If your meaning of “The whole point of congestion pricing was to get people like you to act more like Brooklynites and less like Lynbrook-ites” means that we shouldn’t raise children and should agree to be land locked from Manhattan and the rest of the nation by tolling the Brooklyn Bridge, let me hit you with a clue stick, over my dead body will I ever pay a toll to drive in my city. Lock out Lynbrook and remember that Brooklyn and Queens are integrated parts of the city and not “Bridge and Tunnel People”.

    Ruben

  • JF

    Make up your mind. When trying to shove this thing down my throat it was claimed almost nobody in Brooklyn would be affected because we don’t drive in. Now you admit that it’s designed to keep Brooklynites out of Manhattan with our cars.

    It’s not inconsistent. It’s a tiny minority of Brooklynites who act like jerks by bringing their cars into Manhattan.

    If your meaning of “The whole point of congestion pricing was to get people like you to act more like Brooklynites and less like Lynbrook-ites” means that we shouldn’t raise children and should agree to be land locked from Manhattan and the rest of the nation by tolling the Brooklyn Bridge, let me hit you with a clue stick, over my dead body will I ever pay a toll to drive in my city.

    Well, let me take that clue stick and whap you back with it. Don’t want to pay the toll? Take the subway like everyone else. You know what you’ll see on the subway? LOTS of families with children.

  • ||It’s not inconsistent. It’s a tiny minority of Brooklynites who act like jerks by bringing their cars into Manhattan.||

    It is inconsistant if not a lie

    ||Well, let me take that clue stick and whap you back with it. Don’t want to pay the toll? Take the subway like everyone else. You know what you’ll see on the subway? LOTS of families with children.||

    Actually, no they don’t, although my kids ride the subway more than anyone you know. You have no idea how many families there are and if they flooded the subways, then the subways would be well beyond capacity and the families themselves would be unable to function.

    Ruben

  • JF

    Okay, Ruben, I’m tired of using this clue stick. Here it is, feel free to beat yourself up with it. Come back when you actually know what you’re talking about.

  • JF

    … or when you’re willing to admit that someone else might know more than you.

  • Dave

    Ruben:
    The people stuck in NJ or on Long Island have very limited alternatives but to take the LIE or GSP to move around, unlike those who commute into the city, so your comment to toll those roads is completely specious.

    The problem is that the cheapest alternative for many people is to drive into the city. No tolls on the bridges, free parking galore throughout the city and most likely a waiting list to park at suburban rail stations.

    Build more parking at suburban rail stations; extend the 7-line to Secaucus with a huge parking lot, toll the bridges and take away the free parking on the city.

    There are so many ways to tackle congestion in the city but so often is gets down to Manhattan-envy and a defense of the phantom poor driving public.

  • Chris H

    So this subway to Secaucus idea… Has anyone with a serious background in engineering looked into this idea. I mean, if its proponents want to be taken seriously, they should probably avoid drawing their maps on ruled paper when trying to promote their idea. It really undermines their credibility.

    In all seriousness, as of right now, the whole 7 to Secaucus idea is a complete joke. There is no real research just assertions. If its proponents want to convince me, they are going to have to show some real evidence of its efficacy and its cost benefits (not just a short table with assertions about costs without any details or data to back it up).

  • Rocinante

    In the past year relatively few drivers severely restricted driving mileage or changed driving habits to significantly decrease the consumption of oil. There was no massive activity of SUV owners to trade in their vehicles, for example. The result of this steady increasing demand for gasoline is as responsible for the escalation of oil prices as the suppliers are. The continued high level of consumption of oil indicates that below $4.00 per gallon the demand for oil is relatively inflexible, e.g. does not significantly decrease when the price increases.

    At or near $4.00 a gallon, however, signs of panic are emerging everywhere and consumer demand may prove to be flexible at this price so that alternatives replace driving and/or consuming oil/gasoline.

    A “laissez faire” policy on the price of oil/gasoline may prove the most effective however painful, way to decrease demand and consumption of oil and help the climate. Many drivers won’t be able to afford the cost of their gasoline addiction and prove to be an alternative means of congestion pricing for every city by reducing the number of vehicles.

    I’d like to see the figures and microeconomics grafts of the supply and demand curves for oil that show the price of oil at which consumer consumer demand for oil drops so much due to increased price that the oil companies begin to suffer loss of revenue.

    Reigning in the profiteers in the oil industry is called for, as well.

    The creation of national and state departments with appointed Secretary of sane energy policies with emphasis on climate change is also required.

    I

  • Larry Littlefield

    (So this subway to Secaucus idea… Has anyone with a serious background in engineering looked into this idea.)

    The Department of City Planning proposed extending the Flushing Line to what is now the Secaucus Transfer in the 1990s.

    Suburban officials said that people in the suburbs demand something better than a subway ride, and only a one seat ride at a premium price to discourage the riff-raff would get them out of their cars.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The gas tax will be a good opportunity for O’Bama to distinguish himself. Will O’Bama do the right thing, step up to the plate and speak truth to power? I’m not holding my breath.)

    It is a TREMENDOUS opportunity for Obama.

    Both McMcain and Clinton have gone against their principles to pander to those who want the easy way out in the short term. Obama just needs to keep saying:

    “Gas was $1.50 per gallon in 2000, when the politicians said vote for me and I’ll keep gas cheap so we can buy bigger cars and get bigger houses and burn more fuel. Now it’s $4.00, and everyone with bigger cars and bigger houses is trapped, stuck.”

    “And what is their solution? Give you back 18.4 cents, which will be borrowed from your children! Gas is up $2.50 a gallon, you’re stuck burning more of it than ever before, and that’s their solution. We fell for it in 2000. I even fell for it once. Not anymore.”

    In other words, it isn’t about liberals and conservatives, one part of the country vs. another, or one demographic against another. It is the politicians who have been scamming us all against everyone else. What an opportunity!

  • Curious

    Re extending the 7 to NJ: can a subway be run through a tunnel like the Lincoln, or does it require a new tube?

  • Spud Spudly

    It would absolutely require a new tube, unless you’re going to route the 7 line above ground to the existing tunnel entrances on either side of the river. The only other way to use an existing tube would be to do massive alterations to connect a portion of the tube underground to a new 7 line on both sides and then seal up the current above ground entrances. And if you’re going to do that you might as well just build an entirely new tunnel anyway.

  • Curious

    Is it even possible for subways to run at grade, like trains or light rail? Or do they have to be either underground or elevated?

    And another question: why are we embarking on the current extension of the 7 rather than accelerating completion of the Second Ave. line? Doesn’t it raise the cost of both projects, by competing for the same contractors and labor capable of tunneling and massive hole-digging (and for that matter, probably competing with the Croton Filtration plant)? There wouldn’t seem to any economies of scale in doing them simultaneously.

    Lastly — what are the plans for the fill?

  • Chris H

    Suburban officials said that people in the suburbs demand something better than a subway ride, and only a one seat ride at a premium price to discourage the riff-raff would get them out of their cars.

    Is that what they actually said or is that just your interpretation of the outcome.

    Is it even possible for subways to run at grade, like trains or light rail? Or do they have to be either underground or elevated?

    They can and do run at grade although they shouldn’t have grade crossings (they used to though).

    In any case, I think the biggest issue with it is that its a waste of resources. Rapid transit (subways) is much better for urban areas with frequent stops. I doubt many people would switch from a Northeast Corridor/NJCL/M&E/Montclair-Boonton train at Secaucus and there is not enough passenger on the Main/Bergen County/Pascack valley line trains to come even close to justifying the headway of the number 7.

  • Chris H

    And to preempt a point, yes, the PATH to Newark does run a long distance between stops as well but it provides a very important service that would not otherwise be fulfilled (access to the Jersey waterfront and lower Manhattan for the Newark division for NJT). The #7 would just be a duplication of service with the only advantage being that it would save riding 10 blocks when trying to access East Midtown (well Queens as well but the same thing applies).

    The #7 could be extended to NJ but it should serve the urban areas of the waterfront (weehawkin, etc.) not a transfer station in the middle of the Meadowlands.

  • The AAA guy is more correct than he knows: drivers should be awfully discreet about using their cars. They should hide their faces in deep, sorrowful shame at the way their driving so flagrantly devalues, abuses, and pollutes our public spaces, irretrievable natural resources, clean air and water, and fellow humans’ lives and limbs. I’m surprised that more drivers don’t wear paper bags over their heads.

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