Costly consumption

Get ready for one of the most expensive summers on record–and it won’t be because you go stampeding, it will be how you’re getting there. With the recent surge in gasoline prices, a little pain at the pump this summer might be the first in a series of signs heralding less energy usage in North America. Quite frankly, there isn’t anything like paying that extra ten dollars at the pump to make you wonder what’s going on.

Welcome to car culture.

Somewhere in the history of city planning, it was decided that Calgary, amongst all the other cities in the world, would be built around the moving temple of transportation that is the automobile. As a society, we live and die by the car and our dependency is sickening.

Because the recent Calgary Transit strike dragged out as long as it did, it was painfully apparent Calgarians are among the most transit-independent people in North America. The "essential" public service turned out to be not so essential after all. Vancouverites are currently right behind, with the Greater Vancouver Area transit strike now reaching its 54th day as of May 24. On the first day of the Vancouver transit strike, traffic appeared no different as people were forced to find carpools, ride their bikes or, God forbid, walk to work. Eight weeks of no buses meant that when forced, people found other options.

Of course, there will be the normal gamut of bitching, complaining and conspiracy theories. But the truth is this: if the rule is the path of least resistance, high gas prices are the only way to force people to use alternative means of transportation. In a convenience-riddled society, people choose the best option. If the equation is cost over convenience, the convenience will eventually mean less as the price increases. When gas prices exceed a dollar per litre, and with some boldness we predict they will, more Calgarians will consider cheaper, more efficient means of transportation–namely, mass transit. If it is a conspiracy theory, then for crying out loud, stop pumping your money into the oil and gas industry.

Other cities have integrated transit systems whose services are absolutely necessary. A transit strike of similar duration would be unimaginable in Toronto or New York, whose public transportation systems are critically vital to the function of each city. Other cities’ efforts in mass transportation are comic. In Los Angeles, a "transit system" stands amongst a spiderweb of freeways whose size and scope dwarf Deerfoot Trail. The transit platforms in LA matter little when it takes 30 minutes to drive somewhere inaccessible by transit. Although most LA freeways sport a carpool lane, its carpool lane efforts amidst others are a pathetic Band-Aid solution to cities undergoing a haemorrhage of exhaust. Ask a Calgarian what an HOV lane is and they’ll likely ask if you’re referring to bowling.

As gas prices increase throughout this summer, more Calgarians will be forced to consider transportation alternatives. Most watch gas prices very carefully. In what used to be a symbol of vigorous competition, prominently displayed gas prices now only evoke despair at knowing we once paid less for our chief overconsumption habit that is driving.

As energy prices increase throughout the next decade, an optimistic trend would be the increased viability and accessibility of alternative, renewable energy sources. If gasoline serves as a visible indicator for energy in general, that trend is not far away.

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