National Poll: Americans Expect Gas Prices to Rise More

Fifteen Percent Live Near Convenient Transit Options

susa_graph_1.gif

By a margin greater than four to one, Americans think the price of gas is more likely to hit $5 per gallon than drop to $3 per gallon, according to poll results released last week by Survey USA. With a rash of stories about how drivers are changing their habits appearing this month, the three-question survey lends weight to the argument that demand for gas drops noticeably once consumers firmly believe prices will remain high.

Also worth noting, nearly two-thirds of respondents say they have at least pondered the prospect of cutting back on driving in the face of escalating fuel costs. The number of Americans who can pull off that lifestyle change may be higher than you think: Fifteen percent live near a convenient transit alternative, according to the poll. With national transit mode share chugging upwards from the single digits, the results indicate that current infrastructure may have to carry significantly more passengers in the near future.

Taking a longer view, if fifteen percent is a rough approximation of the current ceiling for transit mode share, the need to expand access could not be more stark. But when it comes to reducing car dependence, congressional leaders are still sticking their heads in the sand.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “If fifteen percent is a rough approximation of the current ceiling for transit mode share, the need to expand access could not be more stark.”

    Unfortunately, the way most of post-War America is laid out, expanded transit would shift the cost of energy and not reduce it. You’d have a bus or train with two people on it.

    Carpooling, telecommuting, bikes and more fuel efficient cars are more likely short term solutions. A reversal of a century of land use patterns, in contrast, is likely to move at the pace of a pre-global warming glacier, though the ice flow does appear to be reversing direction.

  • Unfortunately, the way most of post-War America is laid out, expanded transit would shift the cost of energy and not reduce it. You’d have a bus or train with two people on it.

    I’ve heard that from many people, Larry, but in practice I think expanding transit a lot more feasible than it’s made out to be. I’ve actually lived in some postwar-suburban and rural areas. The bus systems are inefficient because they’re horribly underfunded and run like charities by people who don’t use them.

    Once we get “people like us” (i.e. people like the average taxpayer/voter/city councilmember/municipal bureaucrat/media reporter) riding the bus on a regular basis, all of a sudden you’re going to see routes become much quicker and more efficient, bus lanes painted, connections blasted between subdivisions, and huge increases in frequency.

    We’re already seeing the most recent “edge city” outlying sprawl developments abandoned to foreclosure and prices and rents in the former “inner cities” holding firm as they decline in the suburbs. There’s still a lot of prewar, pre-car-dependence housing stock, office and industrial space that’s sitting empty in the Rust Belt cities. I think we’re going to start seeing those get repopulated as residents and employers abandon Phoenix and Atlanta for places they can afford.

  • Ian Turner

    15% of Americans may live near a convenient mode a public transit, but that doesn’t mean that they work near one. It doesn’t mean their friends live near one. It doesn’t mean their favorite places for shopping, entertainment, etc., are near one. The point is, a 15% transit mode share is hopelessly optimistic at present. In many ways, this ties in to what Larry is saying about land use patterns.

    Let me fill this in with an example. I used to live in El Cerrito, CA. El Cerrito is a small town near San Francisco with fairly good transit connections — BART stops there, there are express buses to the city, and plenty of local buses to places in the nearby towns of Berkeley, Oakland, and Richmond. The immediately area is relatively flat, and the weather is good for bicycling.

    Only one problem: Few people have their entire life contained in El Cerrito.
    If I wanted to visit my sister (Pacifica), I’d need to BART it to Daly City and get a ride — or try for the bus that runs once an hour and meanders all over the place before arriving about a quarter mile from my sister’s place.
    If I wanted to visit my dad, who actually lives in San Francisco — same story, he lives on Park Merced, and getting there from the Daly City BART station is a painful walk across several highways.
    I usually telecommuted, but if I wanted to visit my employer in Sunnyvale, I’d need to take an AC transit bus, a MUNI bus, Caltrain to Sunnyvale, and finally a half-mile walk — about 3 times the amount of time it would take to drive.
    I think you get the idea. To take a particular mode from A to B, both A and B need to be well serviced by that mode.

  • rlb

    Ian’s points about visiting friends and family are well taken. But I would tend to think that, in the pie chart, convenient implies ‘takes you where you want to go’ and the poltakers are probably specifically talking about getting to work. So if Ian were to take that questionnaire, he would say, “No I don’t live near a convenient transit option.”

  • Ian Turner

    FWIW, the actual question was, “In the place where you live, is taking mass transit convenient for you? inconvenient? or is there no mass transit available at all?”

  • Mark Walker

    So, you want your soon-to-be-stranded suburb to be served by rail? Better change your attitude toward higher density:

    http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/city/story.html?id=fdff65de-b5ec-43cd-9410-3758e2aa314c

    This may cause some consternation in Bordentown.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (We’re already seeing the most recent “edge city” outlying sprawl developments abandoned to foreclosure and prices and rents in the former “inner cities” holding firm as they decline in the suburbs. There’s still a lot of prewar, pre-car-dependence housing stock, office and industrial space that’s sitting empty in the Rust Belt cities.)

    It took 60 years to get into this mess, and it will take 60 years to get out of it. But at least things are starting to move.

    There are some institutional issues to contend with. U.S. social policy concentrates the cost of the poor on those who live in the same taxing jurisdiction, and this makes older places that now house the poor less desirable than they would otherwise be.

    Public schools tend to be poor there as well, and in the absence of vouchers those who pay for alternatives are paying twice.

    Older places also have lots of retired public employees living on taxes and providing no services, a burden on the diminished popualtion. New places have few retirees and under-fund their employee retirement benefits in the expectation that a larger number of future residents will make up the deficit later.

    The burden of the past and costs shifted to the future makes government older places seem more expensive, and new places less expensive, then they actually are. This affects where business locates.

    Were it not for these factors, the shift would be much more rapid. As it is, the only “repopulation” is by those who don’t have children and don’t have lots of income to be taxed despite not being poor — young childless people for example — in much of the U.S.

  • Mark Walker

    Larry, re your third-to-last graf, don’t many retired NYC employees live in the suburbs, in Florida, or elsewhere in the sunbelt? Most of them aren’t subject to a residency requirement even when they’re still working.

  • Mark Walker

    Larry, sorry, I misread you. Ignore.

  • misterbadexample

    I’d have to align with Ian and rlb– the transit grid is broken even in places that have mass transit options. When friends moved ‘only’two miles into NJ from the village, you have to add an hour or more each way to the trip.

    And if it’s bad here it is infinitely worse in places like Florida. I’d say 15 percent nationwide is excessively optimistc.

  • Paul

    It’s going to take a long time before the design of our cities and communities improves, and people make smarter decisions about where they live in relation to each other, where they work, shop, spend time, etc.

  • Sean

    It is noteworthy to mention that 14.9% of Americans live in the New York City metro area. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_urban_areas_by_population

    While not everyone in the NYC metro area has “convenient” mass transit, the percentage is far, far lower than elsewhere in the US, where cities are only served by a single-hub-based network of rail or bus.

    The rest of the country has a lot to learn by studying cities that were built before cars came about.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Assuming Sean’s “metropolitan area” roughly approximates the MTA jurisdiction it is also interesting to note that 15% of the US population have 6% of the US Senators and even then they must share those Senators, such as they are, with other cities such as Atlantic City, Mystic and Buffalo and countless little villages and townships that have a huge say in land use issues that affect mass transit funding and acceptance.

    Mass transit options, auto-centricity and densities adequate for mass transit are all a function of the urban-suburban-exurban-rural diffusion of political power handed down from the founding fathers through the miracle of Federalism. The price of gas breaks down accordingly.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The rest of the country has a lot to learn by studying cities that were built before cars came about.)

    Or before the second car became the norm. Until 1970 or so, there was one family car, and the wife and kids got around without one during the say. The advent of the two career sububan couple coincided with the two car family and the chauffered kid.

    Too bad it wasn’t one car plus bikes, carpool, etc. Still could be.

  • James

    Re: Comment #13 – you bring up a great point. Home Rule is very strong here and it makes it incredibly difficult to conduct effective regional planning with all of the tiny kingdoms scattered around the metro area. No one’s ever been able to take on Home Rule and win – it’s a third rail issue despite the enormous waste it creates with duplication of services.

  • Ian Turner

    James,

    You mentioned home rule at the planner’s meeting on Sunday, but I don’t really understand how home rule is strong in New York. If NYC needs permission to install red light cameras, to price its roads, and to set rent control policy, if the subways are run by the state and a state agency (ESDC) has the ability to override NYC zoning, if all these powers are given over to the state, in what way is home rule strong?

    Cheers,

    –Ian

    P.S. I got your phone call, but not until much later.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Gee, I really hate to disagree with someone who agrees with me, it seems to be sort of blog-suicide. However, I guess I think that you missed my point. “Home rule” is really strong everywhere, thats where NIMBY, BANANA and CAVE come from.

    There is a legal concept in transportation known as “Abutter’s Rights”. For example, if I could I’d put a toll booth right in front of my house in South Brooklyn. But I can’t, I don’t have the right. So, in many ways, what make NYC great is the relative absence of abutter’s rights. The city is able to plan for itself in a very big way, though clearly not including congestion pricing.

    Unfortunately for urbanist political forces that hasn’t helped us draw together a cohesive force. Many of the people who supported congestion pricing oppose increased population density as typified by Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. Many of the same people who hate Brodsky and Silver for what happened with Congestion Pricing applaud them for what they did opposing the Stadium on the West Side of Manhattan or any of the other things that they have used state authority to crush.

    What really happens politically to most of the cities in America is that they become ringed by suburbs that then infuse a balkanized planning regime on what would otherwise be an increased urban center. In the US this is intensified by Federalism and antiquated structures of state government. These structural forces divide decision making in a way intended by the founding fathers, particularly but not limited to Thomas Jefferson, to weaken the political strength of cities.

    This effect is amplified when state boundaries are also mixed into the batter. Look at Kansas City Kansas versus Kansas City Missouri or development in an around Cincinatti,OH and Covington, KY, ringed by suburbs and bifurcated by state boundaries.

    Our government, Federal and State, was constructed to settle the frontier. In the modern era that has meant sprawl. High gas prices make it tough on sprawl. Low gas prices encourage sprawl.

    I went to a political rubber chicken dinner in Westchester a couple months ago and some academic gave an excellent presentation on what it would take to bring down property taxes in the burbs, consolidating sewer districts merging schools. They painted several bright examples of how this could be achieved. Then an actual politician, someone who has to get elected in that little burg, stood up and agreed with the academic. Then he went further and said how much greater economies of public service could be achieved by joining the Bronx. He asked for a show of hands of those who wanted to do that. Maybe 300 people in the room, not one hand went up, certainly not mine or even the academic who made the earlier presentation.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Then he went further and said how much greater economies of public service could be achieved by joining the Bronx. He asked for a show of hands of those who wanted to do that. Maybe 300 people in the room, not one hand went up, certainly not mine or even the academic who made the earlier presentation.)

    Why do that when you already have revenue sharing where it benefits the rest of the state (ie. via the MTA) but not where it would benefit NYC — (ie. the local share of Medicaid for hospitals and home health care).

    “Regionalism” has always meant making NYC worse off. No one will agree to it otherwise.

  • brokeland

    Niccolo wrote:
    “Many of the people who supported congestion pricing oppose increased population density as typified by Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn”

    But that is a canard. Nobody opposes increased population density at the proposed site of the Atlantic Yards project.

  • Josh

    “Assuming Sean’s “metropolitan area” roughly approximates the MTA jurisdiction it is also interesting to note that 15% of the US population have 6% of the US Senators and even then they must share those Senators, such as they are, with other cities such as Atlantic City, Mystic and Buffalo and countless little villages and townships that have a huge say in land use issues that affect mass transit funding and acceptance.”

    It’s supposed to be that way. Senators don’t represent the people, they “represent the states” (whatever that means). California has 12% of the US population and only 2% of the US Senate, for that matter, so it’s not even like we have it the worst. If our 15% of the population was not represented by 15% of the House of Representatives, that would be a problem. (Two more years until Census time to get that fixed up again.)

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Yes, You Can Move the Needle on Public Support for a Gas Tax Hike

|
Public support for increasing the federal gas tax rises if revenues will be spent to combat global warming. Graphic: Mineta Transportation Institute Last week, USA Today reported rather gleefully that the U.S. gas tax has never been lower. Having remained unchanged at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, American drivers are now paying half as […]

Poll: Rising Fuel Prices Hitting Middle-Class Americans Hard

|
American households will spend more money on gasoline this year, in dollar and inflation-adjusted terms, than ever before. And middle-class Americans are more concerned about fuel prices than at any time in recent history. These are the findings of a poll of 1,000 Americans commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America, which has been tracking […]

The High Price of Cheap Gas

|
At least on the surface, the big declines in gas prices we’ve seen over the past year seem like an unalloyed good. We save money at the pump, and we have more to spend on other things, But the cheap gas has serious hidden costs—more pollution, more energy consumption, more crashes and greater traffic congestion. […]

NRDC Poll: Americans Support New Transit Twice as Much as New Roads

|
When asked what would solve traffic problems in their community, 42 percent of Americans say more transit. Only 20 percent say more roads. And 21 percent would like to see communities developed that don’t require so much driving. Two-thirds support local planning that guides new development into existing cities and near public transportation. That’s the […]

Would Real Men Tax Gas? A Test for Tom Friedman

|
On Monday, Elana Schor highlighted a recent column from occasionally right New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who once again rolled out one of his favorite policy prescriptions — an increased gas tax. Friedman wrote: Tom Friedman (Photo: IvyGate) According to the energy economist Phil Verleger, a $1 tax on gasoline and diesel fuel would […]