Oil prices have fallen to $122 a barrel, and gas, I noticed on the way to work today, is $3.80-something a gallon. Demand is down in the U.S., and the dollar has strengthened. Isn’t it funny how that works? Today’s conditions aren’t any more likely to be permanent than $147-a-barrel oil or $4.25-a-gallon gas were, but might we sound a small warning to those who are still stuck in panic mode, like the editors of the Indianapolis Star?
A new Federal Highway Administration report has found that in May drivers in Indiana reduced their mileage by 5.3 percent, or 336 million miles, from a year ago. Only three states recorded bigger declines.
Clearly the public mind-set has shifted. Driving an automobile, even in the month of May, is no longer seen as a hardcore Hoosier birthright. A gallon of regular at $4 a pop has a way of clarifying what’s truly important.
[. . .]
The bulk of the money raised from the federal gas tax goes to road building. The state is even more committed to highways. But, as U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters noted on Tuesday, there needs to be a gradual shift of dollars from highways to transit.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has been a visionary leader in many issues involving the state, but he’s trailed on this subject.
[. . .]
Hoosiers are changing their habits. Rushing from Point A to Point Z is giving way to better planning of trips, downsizing vehicles and even jumping on the bus when possible.
State and local leaders need to catch up.
Good lord. Gas is more expensive, so Hoosiers are driving a little less. That does not mean they are clamoring for public transit or ready to give up that evil “hardcore Hoosier birthright” of being able to go exactly where they want to exactly when they want to. They are just driving less. All that money was poured into highways because Americans in great numbers fell in love with the automobile, and they needed somewhere to drive them. That was government accommodating the collective will of the people.
Public transportation is an easier sell in densely packed urban areas, which Indiana really has very few of. Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, for example, are just too spread out for public transit to be anything but an expensive proposition; the more people who want to use it, the more money it can lose. But the urban planner types who have had mass transit on their agenda for a long time see recent conditions as a way to get their pet projects jump-started. This is using people’s momentary change in habits to push something on them that some other people think is better for them. That’s not what we should want government to be doing.