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 www.zillow.com.
“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.