Gas Money Cleans Lakes

2008_6_27_Birthday 001 The past week in Seattle has been amazing weather. Temperate, sunny, clear skies, clean air… There’s no better place to be than summer in Seattle. Something is different this year, however, when I look out across Lake Washington. It’s quiet. There aren’t a lot of waves. There are twice as many kayakers and sailboats and a third as many wake boarders, jet skis, and cigar boats that scream “I have low self esteem and a small reproductive organ, so I make up for it with a 12 cylinder engine and 30 feet of un-muffled, water and air polluting speed”. The sea-planes are still flying. I have no idea who flies around in sea planes.

There’s extra tax to buy gas on the water, so while pump prices for the car are  around $4/gallon, to fill your boat at the local marina is more like $6/gallon. Figure that a morning of wakeboarding for three people uses about 8 gallons of fuel, and you’re looking at a pricey morning ritual. Taking the bus and packing a lunch can’t even save that much money.

Needless to say, the last time I was on my wakeboard I was being towed by a kite. There are a lot fewer days with enough wind to kiteboard, but it only takes about 20 for the savings in gas alone to pay for a top-of-the-line kite.

That’s a tangent. What I really want to celebrate is that the lake really seems to be less busy, quieter, safer for swimmers, and cleaner. A year ago if I were swimming on a nice day I would be able to taste gasoline in the water from the hundreds of boats zipping back and forth. It’s a miracle that I wasn’t killed by a drunk or inattentive driver. I’ve done three open water swims this week, and seen a total of 3 boats go by while I’ve been in the water. Victor had a boat go between him and the shore – which would have scared the crap out of me (and maybe caused me to go on a witch hunt to get the guys registration info so I could report him to the police) – but that’s as close as either of us came to any trouble.

I think if high gas prices can clean up the lake, and get people to demand more efficient vehicles, image then let’s just tax gas extra and use the money to build more safe bike paths, and public transportation infrastructure. I would love to see $8/gallon gas. Would I see you on the bus if that happened? They have wireless internet on some of the routes in Seattle. Rather than watching brake lights, wouldn’t you rather use your laptop? I want to see gas prices so high that when I walk outside my house at 8am during rush hour I’m not suffocated by the smell of exhaust from all the cars just sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on the highway (state route 522 is about a block and a half from my house and it WREAKS in the mornings).

Maybe more tolls would help – though I’m against anything that takes cars off the highway and puts them on side streets because it makes it more dangerous for cyclists. I like Mayor Bloomberg’s idea to just make everyone pay a toll when they come into midtown or lower of manhattan. There is plenty of public transportation to the center of the city, so anyone driving in there is lazy.

When we all start looking at people sitting in traffic the way they look at smokers, then we’ll be getting someplace.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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  1. Did you know the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) named Washington the most bike-friendly state in the nation! AND Seattle boasts the highest percentage of bicycle commuters at 4%!

    Now if we could just get the city to clean the sand, gravel and debrit out of the exhisting bike lanes and keep building new ones…..

  2. Bloomberg’s idea actually comes from London where they have already implemented this program. I think it has been fairly successful. It also opens up the inner city for more transportation, and people end up getting around considerably faster.

    As for the $8 a gallon gas, it is important to realize what percentage of that is coming from taxes vs. actual cost of gas. The Federal and State governments are actually collecting LESS money now that the cost of gas has increased to a point where consumers actually change their driving habits. In Europe, the cost of gas has been higher that here because they put such a heavy tax on gasoline in order to fund public transit.

    We can only blame ourselves for the state we’re currently in. We have a massive transportation infrastructure that was built on encouraging people to drive all over the U.S. Now that consumers are decreasing their gas consumption we’re going to have a hard time funding maintenance and improvements.

    Congress just approved 8 billion to be moved from the general fund to pay for transportation projects because the fed highway account is bankrupt.

  3. I’m also not sure what type of person flies sea planes, but you’ve got the power boat owner one down. i hate boats.

    there’s also been an idea floated around about taxing people for how much they drive and when. So someone who has a long commute during morning/afternoon rush hours would pay a lot, and if you drive very little and not during peak traffic hours, you will pay very little. I would like to see included in this proposal some tax differentiation between giant SUVs and small, gas-saving cars as well. I like it, but I think it would mean tracking devices in everyone’s cars – I’m not sure how well that would be received in the USA.

    charging more for gas would help overall, but not as specifically as the above idea, in terms of getting more people off the road during peak commute hours.

  4. Right Greg, but SUVs would inherently be taxed higher because they get much worse gas mileage. More gallons purchased means more dollars in tax. Toll booths could tax more for larger vehicles as well, which makes sense because larger vehicles are worse on the roads. Speaking of which, Washington State still allows studded tires in the winter, which is rediculous because it has been shown that studded tires (which are a major contributor to our horribly rough highways) have a greater stopping distance than normal all-weather tires in everything except sheer ice, which we just don’t have in Western Washington.

    Toll booths could also substitute tracking devices. Just charge more during peak hours. We can use the factory workers from the bankrupt American car companies to work in the toll booths.

  5. i think it is spelled “REEKS”, just fyi you know.

    i went open water swimming twice this week and it turns out that BOTH LOCATIONS HAD SHARK SIGHTINGS/ATTACKS THIS WEEK but i didn’t know this till after the fact because our rental house on oahu didn’t have internet. ignorance is bliss. and anyway i’d prefer a cute little sharky-shark to a big gross motor boat with like spiders all over it.

  6. so, i’ve thought a bunch about the best way to use taxes/tolls/fees to discourage driving. and there’s plenty of good ideas, though the simplest is probably higher gas taxes/prices.

    but, I can’t reconcile the fact that raising prices of gas 1. affects more than just the price of gas –> it affects the price of everything, but most importantly food and 2. disproportionally affects poorer people more. you know, the people who don’t own boats or SUVs but need their car to get to their job in marin which they can’t afford to live near, etc. and it creates an even more classist and divided society, those that can afford cars (because the really wealthy wont stop driving just b/c its more expensive, they’re be able to absorb the expense) and those that can’t afford it. I have a problem with that.

  7. That’s a good point, Kelly, and one that’s often used by my more conservative friends as their argument against higher gas taxes (how convenient… NOW they care about the poor). However, the reality is that commute distance is positively correlated to income[1]. In essence, richer folks commute more, which makes sense — you don’t often hear people referring to at-risk youth as “outer city kids”, do you?

    At any rate, the model that Ben proposes (and that most developed nations have adopted) is one in which the biggest commuters largely underwrite the development of shared mass transportation infrastructure whenever they choose to drive. Think of it like a “sin tax”, where things like alcohol or gambling are taxed and the revenue generated goes to pay for recovery programs, dependency prevention, or increased enforcement. In other words, the price for indulgence should include the costs of cleanup.

    In America, where we’re loathe to take away someone’s “choice” to do anything, I think this is by far the best way to steer people towards “proper” behavior. The choice remains available to everybody, but it bears (in the form of extra taxes) the true societal cost of the behavior. That higher gas prices would raise the price of consumption for *all* transportable goods is actually a *good thing* in economic terms, since it more accurately reflects what economists call the “true cost” of a good. This would drive the market to evolve (free market folks love the evolutionary pressure analogy) and find newer, cheaper, more environmentally friendly ways to ship goods (rail, local growers, decentralized production, etc).

    However, I would love to see some research done to study the impact that something like this would have on all classes of society. Typically, any central maneuver (short of direct wealth redistribution) tends to disproportionately impact the poorest members of society, since they have the least leverage or breathing room. I’d be surprised, though, if increased gas taxes would really be a serious long-term detriment to the poor, as they have been the first, historically, to embrace public transportation.


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