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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Keep Gas Prices High

Today, I returned from a short business related trip to Los Angeles, the capital of the American commuter culture. Yesterday morning in my hotel room as I watched the local morning news I became incensed by the attitude of a woman interviewed. She is from Ventura County and has to fill up her automobiles’ gas tank every other day during the work week. She drives a Ford Expedition and it costs over $100 to fill a 17 gallon tank. She was whining about the cost of gas, even though Americans pay on average a lot less per gallon for gasoline than Europeans do. But Europeans do not mind because they work closer to their homes and utilize mass transit regularly.

I have always been under the impression that Los Angeles had one of the poorer public transportation networks in the nation. Given this perception that has been ingrained in my head by the media and Hollywood movies which feeds the American commuter culture, I figured when my meeting was over at 3 pm local time I would be stuck grabbing a shuttle bus from my hotel/meeting location back to the airport for my red eye flight which was leaving at midnight. After all given that I was in L.A. the only options were to rent a car or take a cab both of which are colossal wastes of money, particularly when this was a “free” trip for me. I figured I would spend my hours viewing the world walk by at the LAX Tom Bradley Terminal (the busiest international airline terminal outside of Europe) and then head to my terminal for my flight on Spirit Airlines which flies out of LAX Terminal 3.

Much to my surprise the door man at my hotel told me that the relatively new Los Angeles Metro went everywhere and that I could catch it at LAX. So, I caught the Metro at the LAX station and paid $3 for an all day pass. It took me approximately 25 minutes to reach Union Station in Downtown LA which is probably less time than it takes from LAX by automobile. In August 2005, I drove from LAX to Olivera Street on a Saturday afternoon and it took me a half hour. Olivera Street is around the corner from Union Station. (for my return to LAX I pressed for time so I caught the LA World Airports bus back to LAX from Union Station again for $3. The bus ride took longer than my train ride to the city had.)

Sadly, I found the trains nearly empty and those who did ride the trains were clearly taking a “ride” so to speak for no good reason. Even during rush hour few professionals rode the train even though I was on the line which connected downtown with Century City and West Hollywood, both of which serve as bedroom communities for L.A. Unlike Chicago, Washington and New York where riding the trains has become a way of life for working professionals, southern California car culture precludes people from saving time, money and most importantly energy by taking the train to work. The metro system connects such far flung areas as Van Nuys, Pasadena, Redondo Beach and Long Beach to Los Angeles.(with an extension down Wilshire Blvd. towards Santa Monica planned for the near future.) The Los Angeles metro is an outstanding urban railway and it has defied the critics who said that a urban mass transit project of its magnitude could never be accomplished in car crazy southern California.

However as conservation conscious as California politicians have been, the building of the Metro seems to have accomplished little more than to give kids from lower income areas around Downtown Los Angeles a cheap and easy way to go to Hollywood or Pasadena. This represents the greatest fear of subways and light rail that the residents of Georgetown, Cobb County, GA and Lake County, ILL demonstrated when rejecting the metros in their areas from coming into their neighborhoods. The white flight to the suburbs which has typified American life over the past 25 years is actually worse in southern California than elsewhere and it became evident to me that suburbanites just don’t want to ride the train, and don’t want the type of people who do ride the train in their neighborhoods.

Personally, I believe the higher the price of fuel the better for America’s long term health. Changing the culture of those suburbanites wedded to their automobiles is critical for this nation to get a handle on its runaway addiction to foreign oil, and automobiles. Cleaner and more efficient energy alternatives seem to be universally rejected by the very same people who complain about the high cost of gas and the long commutes they have to work every morning.

It is high time now for America to change its corrosive culture. Religious fundamentalists warn that our nation cannot survive any number of moral concerns they have. The truth is the destruction of the USA as a superpower will not be because of gay marriage, or the speaking of Spanish in people’s homes, but because of our continued addiction to big SUVs, long commutes and recreational driving. California has led our nation on so many progressive crusades over the past generation and it would be helpful for the continued greatness of our nation if southern California would lead by example on this very critical issue.

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I am the host of the Major League Soccer Talk and EPL Talk Podcasts and am frequent guest on other (world) football shows. I am also the publisher of various other websites including this one. I work in public/government relations in addition to my soccer work and have a keen interest in history, politics, aviation, travel,and the world around us.