The Energy Trap is a big problem--Middle Class families are spending a lot of their income just getting around--but if you look at the problem right, it's also an opportunity. If we could cut the amount that families have to spend on gasoline that family would have extra money to spend on something else. Let's say they spent it on sending their kids to karate lessons--that would help support jobs in their community, it would make the family's finances stronger, and it would cut pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and dependence on foreign sources of oil. It's a three-fer for the economy--and the kids get karate lessons.
But what are the best policies to reduce the amount of gasoline we have to buy? The Energy Trap has poked around and found a few ideas that are already working.
This California office park gets 30 percent of its workers to leave their cars at home. Sure they like saving money and saving the environment, but workers say it reduces their stress level and increases their time for exercise. Here's Marci's Story, about how taking the bus became a "cult."
New Hampshire resident Tammy Trahan was spending so much on gasoline and car payments to drive her old gas guzzling SUV to work that she was skipping her asthma medicine, which landed her in the ER. A low-interest auto loan from a program called More Than Wheels got her into a Toyota Yaris, and saved her $300 a month in gasoline costs. Read On the Road and Out of the Red in the New York Times here. Here's a followup to reader's comments, too.
The country's 20th largest bus system is privately-owned, profitable, and half-illegal. New York's 850 "dollar vans" operate in a twilight zone: Many of them are licensed but they're prevented from stopping at the curb to pick up passengers by city regulations. Other cities prevent them outright. Even so, Dollar Vans in New York provide fast, personalized transportation, and it's tantalizing to imagine how entrepreneurs could fill transit gaps in other parts of the US. Read about Winston Williams, who operates Black Street Vans.
Here are some innovative ways to extend transit for rural Americans. First, there’s a small rural bus service in Brunswick Maine that has increased passengers by fifty percent in the past year by taking people exactly where they want to go--right up to the doors of the supermarket. By finding riders who need the bus, they're building a system passenger by passenger. Then there’s ITNAmerica.org, which completely re-imagines transit as a sort of hybrid between rideshare and taxi to provide thousands of rides a month across the US. After the first article came out in the New York Times, readers wrote in and I did more research from their comments to write this followup article.
Consider "Solutions" a work in progress. Please send us your ideas, or ideas you see working in your community.