"Are we there yet?" takes on a new meaning this summer.
Anyone who has taken a car trip with children has, undoubtedly, heard that question.
Now, adults are asking themselves the same question, but for a different reason to assess whether the price of gasoline has gone up to the point that they can no longer afford that car trip this summer.
So, dear readers, "Are we there yet?"
Some economists say "Yes." Now that gasoline has topped $4 a gallon, Americans are beginning to change their habits. Locally, Wells Fargo economist Kelly Matthews says Utahns are beginning to cut back on discretionary spending, look at different transportation options and even consider new jobs. Utahns, according to Matthews' report, are spending a greater percentage of their income for motor fuel than they have in 30 years.
Nationally, some people are attempting to curb their fuel consumption by asking to telecommute or changing their work schedules so they work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour shifts.
Not only are high gasoline prices burning a hole in your wallet, you're also paying for the increased fuel costs of grocery store chains and any other businesses that rely on trucks and vans to deliver products.
Federal, state and local governments are mulling how they, too, will pay higher motor-fuel costs. After a good deal of controversy, the Salt Lake City Council backed off a plan to charge for parking at meters after 6 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturdays. Officials said the city needed money to offset nearly $1 million in rising fuel costs.
Since there is only one taxpayer you you will pay for your respective governments' fuel cost increases, too, unless budget directors can come up with some artful ways to pay the fuel bill.
So what do we do?
In my household, we have been planning two summer vacations. Since one is a work-related trip for my husband, it's still a go. The second seems less likely with each passing day, particularly after recent prognostications that gas could sell for $5 a gallon in some parts of the country by the Fourth of July. We had planned to drive to the West Coast in August. There, gasoline could be $6 a gallon if trends continue. If that's the case, we'll scrub our plans.
I've decided to try something radical. Well, it's radical for me, one of the most car-bound creatures on the planet. I'm going to try to ride the bus and TRAX. I'm going to cede control of my schedule in an attempt to save gas money. I'll let you know how it goes.
Practiced transit riders are probably rolling their eyes by now. They're probably wondering why I'm making such a big deal about riding the bus or light rail. It's not a big deal to ride the bus or train. It will be a BIG adjustment for someone who is accustomed to using her car as a time machine or running other errands on the way to and from work.
When my children were younger, I needed my car so I could get to them within a matter of minutes in case they got sick at school, were injured or otherwise needed my help. Because our workday starts and ends later in the day since we became a morning newspaper, it made sense to drive.
Now, our children are older. One of them drives and can be counted on to attend to minor "emergencies." When my last fill-up at the gas pump exceeded $50, I decided to bite the bullet and try public transportation.
I do this with some trepidation. I'm not a stranger to public transportation. I prefer TRAX to the bus, but I live a goodly distance from the light-rail line. I'm anxious because I'm unaccustomed to leaving the driving to others. I'm a bit nervous about people I may encounter on the bus and train. For whatever reason, I tend to attract people who want to save my soul, those who have been recently released from secure facilities or people who start happy hour at noon.
Friends who are regular transit riders tell me they avoid talking to other passengers, which cuts down on encounters with evangelists, ex-cons and drunks. Some riders listen to MP3 players or immerse themselves in a good book or newspaper. I will probably do the same, if only to appear as a seasoned transit rider.
Who knows? With this experiment I may be increasingly willing to leave my car at the park-and-ride lot. I may become a regular transit rider. Or I may get more attached to my car than ever.
Marjorie Cortez, who loves to rev up her car's engine on lonely stretches of highway in the western United States (never exceeding posted speed limits, of course), is a Deseret News editorial writer. E-mail her at [email protected].