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Katrina's Challenge: Take Public Transit

Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the beleaguered people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast this week, as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina proves to be as bad, if not worse, than the storm itself. However, the full effects of Katrina will not be limited to the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Already they have started to ripple across the United States and across the world.

A number of refineries have been knocked out or destroyed. Much of the United States’ Gulf of Mexico oil reserves are now unreachable and will continue to be so for weeks, if not months. Paul Martin may have promised to increase Canadian oil exports to help stabilize the world markets, but Ralph Klein and others have pointed out that Canada is already at its refineries’ production capacity. There is no untapped, unrefined source of oil in the world that can be brought in to replace the oil that’s unreachable at present.

Which means that commuters can expect gas prices to remain in the $1.20 range, if they don’t go substantially higher. In the southern United States, gas prices of $5-6 per gallon are being reported, with some stations running out of gas for sale altogether. It looks likely that we will enter a protracted period wherein oil and gas are in short supply. This means not only higher costs at the pump, but also higher costs in all of the stores, since fuel prices have their impact on shipping costs, and even in the cost of fertilizers farmers put in the ground.

Rather than grumble about the high cost of gasoline; rather than suggest that gas prices be lowered in a temporary and largely ineffective method of providing relief, why not do the only effective method of really reducing your gas bill and leave your car at home?

On Tuesday, September 4, a number of new transit services come onstream throughout southern Ontario. The TTC has announced increased service on many major routes as part of its ridership growth program. York Region Transit is rolling out VIVA, a limited stop, queue-jumping express service up Yonge Street and over the top of Toronto. Grand River Transit is unveiling its new iXpress, cutting travel times between north Waterloo and south Cambridge by as much as half.

Why not try out these services, or find some other way to make use of public transit on Tuesday? Leave your car at home as much as possible. Instead of driving to the big box Walmart at the edge of town, see if you can walk to your corner store when you need milk. Leave extra time for your commute. Or invest in a laptop with a wireless connection and try to work from home. If you can’t abandon your car completely, arrange a car pool.

I realize most people will continue to drive. Some simply don’t have a choice, while others are too stubborn to give up their conveniences. But every litre of gas that you save is a litre of gas somebody else could use. Every car off the road means a few fractions of a second improvement in travel time for the remaining cars waiting to pass through the space you used to occupy. Every reduction in congestion, no matter how small, means improved fuel efficiencies. If enough people do this, there will be more oil to go around. The prices will come down (or, at least, stabilize). And the pressures on the economy (not to mention the environment) will be eased.

If you are driving, now is as good of a time as any to get back onto public transit and see if you can make your commute work. You’ll save yourself a bundle, and in your own small way, you’ll save others a bundle as well.

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