Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thought of the Day: Where is the Line?

How expensive do you think gas will need to get per gallon before people will start taking the bus? Then in turn how long do you think it will be horrid and crowded on busses before Seattle gets improved public transport?

According to the King County Dept. of Transportation, January –March of 2008 only had an increased ridership of 6% from the same period last year.

Everett reported an 8% increase (my assumption is that it is harder to walk to places in Everett than Seattle and the Naval base probably increases the number of persons without cars[?]). [Source.]

According to some calculations I made at a variety of sites, gas was approximately an average of $3.23 a gallon from January to March of this year, compared to the approximate average of $2.56 over the same period last year. So theoretically, admitting the possibility of other contributing factors, a $.67 increase in gas prices motivated a 6% increase in ridership. Gas is now $4 a gallon, a $.70 increase, so will it follow that another 6% increase is in the making?

If I had more accurate data I could rock this party, but I think it will be interesting to see what happens as gas prices continue to rise. And they will because 6 years ago gas prices and crude oil prices were hovering neck and neck, but as time has passed crude oil prices have shot up dramatically, particularly in the past year or so, but gas prices have not risen proportionately. See nifty chart below. You will notice that crude is now waaaaaaaay up there. So, I would assume that if crude oil prices were simply to hold exactly where they are (snort) we are still looking at at least $6 gas when we catch up.

8 comments:

Dr. Zoltar said...

** Sigh ** The problem is that most people have a love affair with their cars and don't want to give them up. Or even carpool. So until they go into severe debt, people will continue to pay for expensive gas on their credit cards.

As for me, the bus system isn't so great. I can get to work via the bus, but it will take me three times as long to get to work versus driving. So instead I just try to work from home more.

Elwood said...

On top of all of this, the cherry on top of the bullshit sundae? Oil Execs tell Congress that they aren't to blame and have no control over gas or oil prices.

cymberleah said...

I think your line statistic is missing one minor factor, and that is the massive increase in small cars, and massive decrease in gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks. So while the ridership hasn't increased a great deal, there has still been a shift in consumption habits that isn't yet shown in your calculations.

Now, when that shift will not be enough to offset the rise in fuel prices, *then* you're going to see your large jump in ridership. I'm already seeing more people biking along the roads, and while I would say the majority of these people are not looking to take up bike commuting as a habit, yet, they are interested enough in alternate forms of transportation to be testing the waters.

Much of the rise in fuel prices has been in the past few months, and the desire to try something new in the cold rain/snow is not nearly as well formed as the desire to change habits when it's warm. My guess is that there will be an increase in people trying alternate forms of commute in the next few months as they become more feasible.

qtilla said...

There is a distinct drop in SUV/Truck sales, but there is also a significant drop in all auto sales, which is no doubt a part of greater economic difficulties.

The problem is not that all our cars guzzle gas and we should switch them, it's that we have built infrastructure that is dependent on vehicle ownership. There is a price point at which regular people will say "Fuck it, I'll take the bus." Where is that point?

I couldn't really ride the bus to work now, but that is part of the reason I'm moving to the burbs. It isn't purely the expense of the city, it is the sheer fact that I need to live where I need to be for work and play. If proper transportation is in place, people don't need cars. Expensive cars = increased reliance on public transport = more available transport.

My purpose in wondering how high gas needs to go was not rhetorical chiding. It was literally me wondering at what literal dollar amount per gallon will the average Seattlite start riding the bus.

cymberleah said...

Actually, not all car sales are down. As an absolute figure, there are fewer vehicles sold, yes. But for certain categories (see http://online.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3022-autosales.html for April's figures) small cars are showing stronger sales this year than last year. That was really what I was trying to say, that for a lot of people they are willing to go "less car" (or less fuel consumption) than they are willing to go "no car" (or ride bus/carpool/bike/etc.)

What I was trying to infer from that is that you can say x% of people were willing to shift from a high fuel consumption vehicle to a lower consumption vehicle. You already have the number (6%) of people willing to give up the car at the current fuel point. But to say that there is no other market shift occurring (car usage OR communal transit usage) makes your question harder to answer. If you can put a number on the people who are already willing to/able to change, that is likely a segment of the population that would be willing to shift again, that is to transit at the time that prices hit another "unaffordable" point.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I agree that our communal transit infrastructure is craptastic. I'd posit that you will see more people riding the bus as the financial offset ratio decreases. If it takes me an extra hour to get home, and I make $10 an hour, I "feel" that as long as the money I spend on fuel is less than ($10 - fare) then it doesn't profit me to take the bus. But when it does cost me as much as an hour of work, or more, then that extra hour on the bus looks like less of a headache than the alternative. I think when we can start framing the question in those terms, then it will be easier to figure out ridership levels. Right now, our public transit *is* a headache for people trying to use it outside of a certain few locations. It's finding the point at which the time frustration is less than the monetary frustration that you're really trying to predict, I think.

Drew said...

Q is right on about the infrastructure. In texas, we love our cars, but that's not why most of us don't take the bus.

Austin has a better Mass transit system than most cities here in texas, but that's like saying Tijuana has the best drinking water in Mexico. It sucks to ride the bus. You have to stand outside in 100+ degree weather for a minimum of 30 minutes if the buses are running on time. You best plan to leave 2 hours before you need to be anywhere. In terms of time, you're better off taking a cab. If you're near central austin, however, the System's better, but we're guilty of urban sprawl here, and odds are you can't afford to live centrally.

Bikes here in Austin though, are a tremendously big thing. It's hard to go 4 blocks without running over some asshole on his back shooting down a semi-major road. They've got some lame-ass ordinance about not biking on the sidewalks, and while we have bike-lanes that will easily take you throughout the city, they avoid the major roads. Dipshits don't go a block down to where the damned bike lane is and start trying to race traffic. Fuckers.

(I say this, but one of my Uncles here owns a bike shop. The other owns a manufacturing plant that crushes the souls of its workers. Guess which one I work for?)

Anyhow, one of the praises I regularly sing to my fellow Texans is how that when living in Seattle, I got by for two months on the same tank of Gas. I know ya'll think it's for-shit, but compared to what we got here, it's like a science-fiction Utupian future.

Dr. Zoltar said...

I agree that the public transportation infrastructure sucks. I live in Puyallup and work in Tacoma. In order to take the bus to work I’d have to drive from my home to South Hill Mall – a direction that is opposite my commute. Then wait for the bus. Then get on the bus, wait through it’s many stops, and get deposited at either the Tacoma Dome (in which then it’s another 10-15 minutes to take the LINK), or be dropped off in front of my work (but only if I take a certain bus that runs at certain times). Or I can just drive in which takes me 30 minutes from the time I leave my driveway to the time I log in at my computer. I would love to take public transportation if it even came close to matching the length of time it takes me to drive in.

And don’t get me started on the fiasco that is the Sounder parking lots…

Dr. Zoltar said...

I agree that the public transportation infrastructure sucks. I live in Puyallup and work in Tacoma. In order to take the bus to work I’d have to drive from my home to South Hill Mall – a direction that is opposite my commute. Then wait for the bus. Then get on the bus, wait through it’s many stops, and get deposited at either the Tacoma Dome (in which then it’s another 10-15 minutes to take the LINK), or be dropped off in front of my work (but only if I take a certain bus that runs at certain times). Or I can just drive in which takes me 30 minutes from the time I leave my driveway to the time I log in at my computer. I would love to take public transportation if it even came close to matching the length of time it takes me to drive in.

And don’t get me started on the fiasco that is the Sounder parking lots…