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stimulate me one more time

By enelson
Thursday, June 26th, 2008 at 8:24 pm in driving, fuel, Funding, global warming, Transit vs. driving.

I think it was last weekend that I got a warning that my balance had reached the low threshold that I’d set for just such a warning. So I checked my account and discovered something else: About five transactions earlier, I’d gotten my federal stimulus check of $600.

It was a sad realization. I had planned all sorts of celebrations for the stimulus. I might have run out to the all-you-can-eat sushi place, sent my son to Marine World or maybe hired someone to keep track of my garden.

But the darn thing just evaporated in my sleep, perhaps serving the purpose of preventing an overdraft. Perhaps the overdraft would have been better. After all, the banking industry needs some stimulating.

Maybe that’s why I skipped this morning’s rally in front of the Ferry Building in San Francisco by public transit advocates. It hit too close to home and would be too depressing.

The theme was that since February, when Congress and President Bush decided to send out these checks to stimulate us up from the threat of recession, the average American family has spent $1,500 in gas, i.e., their entire stimulus check.

And who does this stimulate? Why, the oil companies, along with oil suppliers like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Mind you, I’m sure there are a lot of people who work for oil companies and who live in those nations who could use a little extra cash. But if CalPIRG, the Transportation and Land Use Coalition, Urban Habitat, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association are right, most of the stimulation that Americans will notice is the same variety I feel whenever I look up home values on my street on

Squandering the Stimulus,” a report by CalPIRG’s national umbrella group, USPIRG, gives us the unsurprising news that “overall government policies continue to encourage more driving at the expense of alternatives, leaving Americans poorer, stuck in worsening traffic, and emitting dangerous levels of global-warming pollution.”

But the group and its allies did praise Congress for its overwhelming support of a stimulus package, if you will, for public transit of $1.7 billion. A paltry sum, when you get down to it, that would at best allow the Bay Area to reduce transit fares by 5 percent for two years or increase service by 2 percent with its $47 million share.

And here’s the crux of their argument:

Existing public transportation already reduces America’s oil dependence. Analysis by CALPIRG shows that net oil savings from public transportation totaled 3.4 billion gallons in 2006, the last year for which full data on transit agency and ridership is currently available. These oil savings are enough to fuel 5.8 million cars for an entire year and to save about $13.6 billion in gasoline at
today’s prices. In California, public transit saved 486.4 million gallons, the equivalent of $2 billion at today’s gas prices.

We Americans get all lathered up and confrontational about a lot of issues, but the math that the PIRGs across the nation are laying out isn’t in dispute, other than maybe quibbling over stuff like how much benefit do we get from an empty WHEELS bus driving around?

No, most everybody knows we need transit, and amazingly, they aren’t just saying we support transit for OTHER people anymore.


Many thanks to Emily Rusch of CalPIRG (at podium in front of Ferry Building) for e-mailing the photo above after hours and against her better judgment.

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5 Responses to “stimulate me one more time”

  1. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    The stimulus checks were really a giveaway to oil companies and a stimulus to the banking industry – Congress knew the money would either go to pay for gas or to the banks in the form of credit card payments or savings (thereby helping shore up shaky bank reserve levels).

    Real stimulus would involve something like, oh I don’t know, approving a high speed rail system that would begin construction by 2010 and employ a significant amount of people…

  2. Capricious Commuter Says:

    First, the wind-up, then the pitch…

    Nicely done, Robert.

  3. Reedman Says:

    The difference between stimulus checks and HSR is the stimulus checks are a one-time government expense. HSR would be like Social Security, where a small amount of money is paid in, and a lot of money is paid out every year forever.

  4. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Reedman, the question voters will need to decide is whether high-speed rail is a reasonable long-term investment that pays regular dividends, as you suggest, savings bonds that will be worth something in a couple decades or mortgage-backed securities.

  5. Doris Williams Says:

    “overall government policies continue to encourage more driving at the expense of alternatives, leaving Americans poorer, stuck in worsening traffic, and emitting dangerous levels of global-warming pollution.”

    It is this quote I’d like to comment on. In regards to sitting in traffic when I’m not taking a bike or public transportation, I help global warming issue by turning off my engine if I know I’m waiting for more than 10 seconds at a traffic intersection. I have been doing it for more than 5 years with my ’91 Honda Station Wagon and it hasn’t done anything to it! My mileage has actually gone up from the gas it saves. it also saves wear and tear on your car, contrary to popular belief. So I have been standing at left-hand turn lanes with a “STOP IDLING” sign and handing out literature and stickers. People have been pretty responsive, maybe 25% of them and had never thought of turning off engines at traffic lights. Oregon has published a pamphlet on this subject, and various cities in the U.S. and Canada are trying to legislate banning idling, at least for trucks and school buses. Doing this and urging other people to do so makes me feel a whole lot better about our environment. Rather than waiting for government to do something, we can all do our part! I also can’t afford a Prius!

    Thank you for all you do to help public transportation!

    Doris Williams
    Palo Alto, CA

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