In the past ten years, higher demand, scarce supplies, and a weakened dollar have all contributed to an over 200% increase in gas prices. While automakers and researchers are looking at alternative fuels and other ways of reducing dependence on foreign oil, these sources have their own problems and are years away from becoming a reality. The current reality is that the best way to reduce our demand for gasoline is to use less. So what steps can communities and automakers take to help reduce gas consumption?
Fix Traffic Light Timing
If you travel down a major street with lots of stoplights, you know the pain of getting a green, moving 50 feet down the road to a red, then another 50 feet to another red. Repeat this sequence over a distance and the stop/start nature can take a toll on the fuel economy of you and everyone around you.
While it is impossible to fix the timing so nobody gets a red light, it’s certainly possible to improve the timing on major routes to ensure that the time spent at a red light is greatly reduced.
Improve development planning
In Louisville, the method of developing property in the city seems to be to find a piece of land, put something on it, and then put an entrance. There is little thought given to the impact that this development has on traffic. On the busy road that I live off of, any one mile stretch has literally dozens of places you can turn into, and this constant flow of traffic in every direction aggravates stop and go traffic, which contributes to wasted gas. Another problem it creates is that motorists trying to get out of subdivisions and businesses on either side of the street have to accelerate rapidly (another gas waster) to safely get into the flow of traffic. If communities were more thoughtful about the planning of major developments of housing and shopping, they could create communities that are not only better for fuel economy, but also safer.
Tax incentives for cars that get above 30 MPG (or some higher amount) overall
The IRS allows for tax credits for hybrid cars, but those credits expire after 60,000 hybrids are sold by a carmaker. By extending tax credits for ALL cars that get over a certain MPG (and perhaps higher credits for those that reach an even higher MPG limit), an economic incentive will be provided for people to start downsizing their vehicles. If the concern is that this threshold might hurt domestic auto sales, then simply change the rules to give credits for automobiles and SUVs that exceed the average mileage for their class by ten or twenty percent.
Encourage businesses to promote work from home and public transportation
My company offers us free bus service on Louisville’s TARC system, as well as expanding work from home opportunities. An ABC news story in 2005 indicated that the average daily commute was 16 miles one way. If you figure that a 32 mile round trip would use about 1.5 gallons of fuel for your average commuter per day, you could save close to 400 gallons of gas or more per worker each year, not to mention cut down on traffic, which hurts fuel consumption for other drivers.
Use technology to track and trend gas mileage, traffic flow, personal driving habits, and best routes
GPS and Bluetooth technology are becoming more and more common in cars. Imagine a system in which your car’s trip computer and GPS pairs with your cell phone to contribute to a national database of traffic trends, best routes, and most efficient ways to get to destinations. As you drive, your car tracks where you’re going, how fast you’re going, the type of driving you did along the way, the traffic you encountered, and how long it took for you to get there. Over time, the network of thousands of these systems would start to identify not only traffic trends, but also the best ways and best times to get from one destination to another. It could also assist drivers in measuring their own driving habits. Does your driving too fast or too slow hurt your economy? Did your route affect how much gas you consumed? Over enough time, the database could make us all better and more efficient drivers.