By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
There’s a bright side to almost everything, right? Even $4 per gallon fuel.
If that seems like a stretch as you fork over another $80 to fill up your car, consider the bright side:
1) There’s less traffic out there
If you can still afford to drive, the drive’s less aggravating than it was when gas cost under $2 per gallon because there are fewer cars on the road. Traffic has decreased across the board, nationwide, on both highways and secondary roads as people throttle back on their day-tripping, carpool — or just stay home. In a way, this is a welcome pause in what had been a relentless annual uptick in the total number of cars on the roads as well as the annual mileage racked up by these cars (more than 12,000 per year per car, according to most estimates).
Driving almost anywhere when gas was $2 per or less was becoming a real hassle; at $4 per gallon we may be driving less — but we can actually drive again when we do — instead of staring at the bumper of a minivan with soccer ball stickers all over it as we bump and grind along at 25 mph.
2) The argument for telecommuting has become stronger
There are many jobs that do not require the worker’s physical presence at a traditional office. However, most employers have been reluctant to allow workers who could work from home to actually work from home. Part of this is just the inertia of tradition — “people have always come to an office” — and part of it is the control freak condescension of employers who suspect that workers won’t work if they aren’t stuck in a cubicle and being watched all day long.
However, studies of telecommuting find that productivity actually increases when workers don’t have to waste an hour or two stuck in traffic just getting to work. Eliminating the commute can also be a huge financial incentive for both employer and employee. It amounts to a large “raise” (in the form of savings on gas as well as vehicle wear and tear) that goes right into the employee’s pocket but doesn’t cost the employer a cent. Every boss has gotta love that!
3) It’s a great excuse to ride a motorcycle
If you have a bike — and a wife — odds are your wife doesn’t much like the bike. But now you can point out to the wife how much money you’re saving by riding instead of driving.
Even the biggest cruiser bike (or fastest crotch rocket) can usually deliver at least 35 mpg — as good or better fuel economy than almost any subcompact economy car. Smaller bikes routinely deliver 60 mpg or more — which easily outperforms any hybrid car.
Just switching from a car that gets 20 mpg on average to a bike that gets double that reduces your monthly fuel bill by half. It’s hard to argue with that!
4) European-spec high performance/high efficiency diesels are coming
Due to the stupidity of our government and its bureaucratic rigmarole — along with inferior quality diesel fuel — the US consumer has been denied 40 mpg high-performance diesel sedans from BMW and Mercedes — as well as 70 mpg small cars from VW and others that handily beat the at-the-pump performance of the best hybrid cars, without costly and complex hybrid vehicle technology. That is changing — finally.
The US now has low-sulfur diesel fuel — and the legal/regulatory situation (emissions control issues, mostly) has been addressed by dint of the fuel issue having been taken care of. So American consumers should soon be able to buy the kinds of cars the Europeans have been able to buy for years.
Thank $4 per gallon fuel for putting the pressure on!