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Some of you may know that I am a full time student. I wrote this current event piece for a geography course (my minor). Given its content I had to share it here. I hope you enjoy it!

More and more people are focusing on the fuel efficiency of their cars and trucks. Fuel-efficient cars are better for both the environment and for their owners’ wallets. There is a downside to high fuel efficiency that is getting attention these days. More fuel-efficient cars = fewer dollars spent on fuel = fewer gas taxes being collected. This is creating an increased burden on the government and road/highway industries to effectively maintain our country’s roadways (Schwartz, 2013). Currently, the federal government taxes gasoline at 18.4 cents per gallon and highway officials have been calling for higher tax rates to increase revenue that pours into the industry (Mitchell, 2012).

In 2011, the CEO of bailed-out General Motors, Dan Akerson, called for a one-dollar increase in gas tax (Isadore, 2011). Akerson claimed that such a rise in gas tax would simultaneously encourage people to purchase fuel-efficient cars while increasing revenue that ensures the health and safety of our roads and highways (Isadore, 2011). The idea is people will want to purchase smaller cars that use less gas because they would have to pay exceedingly high gas prices less often.

Americans bemoan the price of gasoline as it creeps higher and celebrate whenever it falls. European countries like the United Kingdom have extremely high petroleum taxes. The UK taxes their oil and gas industry 62% (Oil & Gas UK, n.d.). I cannot find information that the United States taxes companies within the oil and gas industry at a higher rate than other corporations and currently, our country’s top corporate tax rate is 35% (Orszag, 2013). According to the Automobile Association, UK citizens pay roughly 132 pence per litre for fuel (The AA, 2013). This is equal to about $2.04. 3.8 litres/gallon = $7.75/gallon. The United Kingdom ranks thirteenth in highest petrol prices in Europe (The AA, 2013).

High fuel prices in Europe encourage citizens to use alternative modes of transportation. Notice I use the verb “use.” In the US it is more common that an individual that does not drive must “find” alternative transportation. My reaction to the proposal that our gas taxes go up is, “All in!” Our nation has vast land resources on which to build high-speed railways and bikeways. I often hear complaints that public transportation is very expensive. And it is! If more people used it, instead of driving their cars, prices would drop. Much the same as the gas industry wanting to raise consumer prices in order to make ends meet, public transport companies have bills to pay and do what they have to do.

Countries across Europe invest heavily in mass transit, as does Canada. The Transportation Research Council estimates that European and Canadian mass transit accounts for 10% of the nations’ transportation. This is a number that could greatly improve. However, the United States trails far behind at a pathetic 2% of all transportation (TRC, 2001). Higher gas taxes could equate to more money to invest in current and future mass transit.

Transportation that is not automotive is uncommon in the United States. Very old cities like New York and Chicago have popular and relatively efficient rail systems. In fact, I grew up in the suburbs of New York City and learned to go just about anywhere by train. Now I live 70 miles inland from New York City and have to travel that far to find a major rail hub, either to New York or Philadelphia. I’d say 95% of people I encounter who learn we live car-free are nothing less than appalled.

“How can you do that?”

“Isn’t it cold?”

“Don’t you get hot?”

“What do you do with your kids?”

“I can’t imagine not owning a car!”

A bold few have called us crazy. But are we? Here in the US we are an uncommon family of four. Ask a cyclist to name a country where bicycles are widely used and they’ll likely name somewhere in Europe. The website Top 10 Hell did the math and found that China, Japan and Europe actually account for the top 10 nations in the world for bicycle usage (Top10Hell.com, 2011). The CIA Factbook lists the United States as #1 in km of railway nationwide (CIA Factbook, 2013). Wikipedia is the only source I found listing rail usage by country, India being #1. The US, with the most laid railways is ranked 31st for usage of those railways. It may offend some that I call this pitiful.

Obviously, I hold bias regarding the future of our country’s infrastructure. In his interview with William Buckley, Julian Simon, a widely published critic of Thomas Malthus and Malthusianism, maintains that human beings have an infinite capacity for creating. That instead of focusing on the finiteness of a resource, we need to depend upon our infiniteness as inventors. It is my opinion as a human being, a student of geography, and as an American, that our nation should take a keen look at the infinite possibilities and what is available in shifting the majority of our transportation needs away from gas and petroleum.