With gas at $4 or higher some people are starting to ask: Why on earth did we buy a car like this? Well, a lot of people once did. In fact, until late 2004, a lot of people went out of their way to buy precisely these monsters because -– if you can believe it -– the government actually offered a tax break for buying a car that weighed over 6,000 pounds if you were self-employed and needed it to transport heavy work machinery. Like farm equipment. Or a laptop. Futility Vehicle, New York Times Blog, July 10, 2008 Government policies can shape people's choices. They are not the only factor of course, but clearly it's time to rethink the kinds of energy usage we're encouraging. Some of the time things go in the right direction despite government intervention and inaction. For example, ridership on mass transit is increasing because of high gas prices, but many cities are having trouble keeping up with demand. Mass transit is a pragmatic and effective response to our oil dilemma and to concerns about global warming. The US is far behind other rich countries in terms of mass transit infrastructure. This is, in part, due to the inexpensive and abundant energy we've had for much of this century. Over the past half century, we have used energy, especially oil, in a wasteful manner and now, with world wide demand surging and production leveling off, the cost is going through the roof. We need to expand and fund less energy intensive forms of transportation so that our economy, and our cities can continue to function. We need to find new ways of producing energy and use the energy we produce in more effective ways. Mass transit is one part of the solution here. Unless you live in NYC or perhaps San Francisco, your experiences with mass transit have probably been rather negative. There is no reason why this needs to be the case. There is some new legislation out that is addressing this very issue. The legislation provides emergency federal aid for transit systems and promotes the use of alternative fuels. No Senate version of the bill has emerged, but Hanley, a former Staten Island bus driver, remains optimistic. "This legislation moved quickly through the House because members of Congress recognize that this is a crisis." Hanley believes the benefits of federal support for mass transit are wide-ranging and more effective than alternatives currently being discussed. "Congress can cut a 'fiscal stimulus' check so Americans can go to Wal-Mart and buy products made in China or we can 'Drill, Drill, Drill,' for six months-worth of oil," Hanley said. But, if the federal government really wants "to stimulate local economies, help the environment and strengthen national defense by reducing oil dependence, it's hard to find a better public investment than mass transit." Rising Fuel Costs and Ridership Strain Local Transit Systems Nationwide, StreetsBlog.com We face a lot of daunting challenges in transportation over the next few years. But, I know we'll be able to rise up and meet the challenges. Ridership is visibly up on the subway and commuter lines here in NYC. You can see it happening. So, the only questions is: Will we be able to adjust fast enough to meet people's needs and keep our cities and our economy functioning?