Friday, May 23, 2008

Playing with the maths--on the highway

I’ve been wondering for the last few years about gas prices, income, and the cost of getting to work, but I’ve never actually done the numbers. I guess I was too afraid, or I figured that predictions of $10/gallon gas were unrealistic--not because it couldn’t happen, but because Bush would be out of office before it would happen, and the American people would elect someone who could figure out how to get us off oil before gas prices got to that ridiculous figure.

This morning, though, after seeing gas go up yet again at my local corner store ($3.89 last night, probably higher by end of today, given the holiday weekend) and after reading DCap’s brilliant post, I decided I needed to do the numbers—just to see what would happen.

The question I’ve been asking in my mind, but avoiding doing the numbers for, is this:
At what point would gasoline become so expensive that people would consider it impossible (or useless or stupid or whatever) to even go to work?

Let’s say that you make, oh, about $35K a year (don't cry for me, Argentina--many people in my area make less than that). If you work for your average American corporation or whatever, then after your company fucks you for insurance coverage and other benefits, and after the government fucks you for tax money to finance their ridiculous occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan (and the rest of the world), you take home about $22,500 a year. (Remember, this is only an example. Random. Not at all in any way related to my little paycheck. Really. Seriously. I mean it. Okay, just read the post already.)

Let’s put some numbers into an Excel spreadsheet, then, shall we? First, we’ll put in the price of a gallon of gasoline, then the number of gallons I use per week (I'm going to use the best-case estimate of 20 gallons), then we’ll do some mathin’:
So when gas hits $4 a gallon here in Central PA, which is only 11 cents away, I’ll be spending almost $80 a week to fill my tank. (I drive a Saturn Ion that gets about 33 miles per gallon on my mostly small-highway route to work and Kat’s school. We commute together, as we only have the one car.) $80 a week over 12 months = $4,357. That’s almost 20% of my sample take-home pay spent on getting myself to work and Kat to school, plus trips to the grocery store and such (all carefully planned to use the minimum amount of gasoline, by the way).

Well, 20% is a lot, but it's not going to make me think something crazy like I'm paying more to get to work than I'm making, or whatever. But let's fill those cells with a little bit of future pricing and see what happens:

So if gasoline were to hit $10 a gallon anytime soon, I'd be spending fully HALF my take-home income just to drive my car. (We won't even factor in the cost of insurance and maintenance.)
Want to really get sick?

These prices are not that far off. Should the country go insane and elect McNutJob (or should the repugs continue their now traditional practice of stealing the presidency and install McNutJob as our next Decider Guy), you can pretty much bet that these prices will be here within a year of the geezer's taking office.

Math hurts sometimes.

alternative energy plan


Sorghum Crow said...

OH NO. I don't dare look at the numbers.
I'm lucky to be carpooling. And my company is generous enough to provide a financial incentive. (Their motivation is mostly to avoid building new parking lots.)

Matt said...

This is something that can't be avoided. I will probably be moving soon to take a new job and I know that one of the most important factors in housing will be the distance to work.

I think I'm going to buy a horse. Is horse food cheaper then gas?


dguzman said...

Sorghum Crow--really? I wish my company would do that.

Matt--Kat and I are going to refuse any job in a city without public transportation. We're hoping to get rid of the car altogether once she gets her PhD and we can leave Central PA. A horse sounds good! Or a donkey--donkeys are good at climbing mountains!

Sue J said...

I like your alternative energy plan! My job is an hour from my home, and think I'm going to have to change one or the other soon -- it's really getting ridiculous!

Spartacus said...

DG - I consider myself fortunate in that I commute to work every day on mass transit (LI Railroad). But that costs $250 a month which comes out to $3,000 a year. A bargain compared to your financial analysis and it's no surprise that the LIRR has seen a 10% rise in ridership in one month.

Mass transit is a good thing in the short term, but is it the magic elixer? Even mass transportation has it's breaking point where, because of over-utilization, we could see a premium pricing structure would be put in place by people willing to pay more for the comfort and convenience of a seat or uncrowded car. First-class and steerage on mass transportation? I can see that happening unless an investment is made in mass transit and other needed infrastructure improvements that will remove our lips from the oil teat. Maybe it is time to get a bike.

Dusty said...

Europe has been paying 10 bucks a gallon for a very long time.

I know it hurts, but evidently it has to hurt in order to get people to do something about it.

I loved Mass Transit when I lived in San Fran, Boston and outside DC. I am more rural now, and that presents a problem.

Jess Wundrun said...

Looks like we won't be able to entice you to come to Madison because cons in the suburbs go apeshit when you mention that we need to build commuter rail. We do have busses, though.

Ben and I did the similar maths when the cheesenips were born. The reason that I didn't go back to work was that we considered:
the price of gas,
wear and tear on the car,
the price of work clothes,
the price of eating out for lunch,
the price of eating convenience foods instead of home-made at night,
and of course, the price of daycare,

We discovered that we saved money by me not working outside the house. This was when gas was about 1.30 a gallon.

Matty Boy said...

My car broke down a while ago and didn't have the money to repair it. Luckily, all three of my jobs (soon to be four) are easily accessible by public transportation.

I have a post in the pipeline about why I'm optimistic about an honestly bleak future, based on a simple sentence.

We can't afford it.

FranIAm said...

I am far too depressed to comment.

FranIAm said...

Go read this!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Even though you did most of the work, I am too tired to figure out the cost per litre. But we just went up to $126.4/litre and we are one of the cheapest stations in town.

I have been considering this for a long time, but I live 30 kms from work and come fall, am going to be leaving. It's just not worth it.
Gas prices are only part of the decision, of course, but I am sick of being so dependent upon oil.

Distributorcap said...

it is only gonna get worse ---- and there is no chance of going back to the days of even $2.50 gas.

the strains on the system will be apparent quickly --- overcrowding on mass transit - bicyclist getting hit by cars, people stealing gasoline from cars --- i really do believe something as simple as gas prices can "start the revolution"

but lucky for the Scumbag in charge -- he is gonna dump this and iraq (which are very tied together) on the next guy -- mcsame (who will make it worse) or obama (who will sink or swim trying to fix this)

forget about just getting to work -0- how many business are gonna even survive if they cant transport their goods

Randal Graves said...

I haven't looked at the numbers for fear of throwing objects, so thanks for doing all the work. I will now throw said objects when I get home.

How depressing. I'm lucky in that I can take public transportation to work, but, fares would obviously shoot up along with gas prices. I'm also lucky in that many stores are within relative walking distance. For so many Americans, neither of these things are the case, and they're going to get especially screwed.

Imagine if The Maverick® gets in to contribute his own special brand of world upheaval.

Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

Freida Bee said...

Oh man, We live outside the city where there are no buses and have justified the environmental costs and the financial costs with the fact that the house we rent (for far cheaper than in town) has solar panels and our utility bills are pretty darn cheap, but we are very car dependent. I would be most sad for the cost benefit to continue to decline. I am looking forward to getting an alternatively fueled vehicle when I graduate and get a decent paying ($35,000/ year) job. That is really sad.

Liberality said...

my car gets 33 mpg in town and 36 mpg on the highway. unfortunately, I live in the country and am dependent upon a car to get around. I want an electric car, like the ones featured in "Who Killed the Electric Car?" which is an excellent documentary to watch if you haven't seen it. Go to your local library to check it out if you can.

Tengrain said...

DGuzman -

About the only thing I like about my employer is that they give us a free transit pass and they run a shuttle to/from the light rail station. They also let me telecommute from home when I want. If I am good, my commute is free.

I drive a Prius now.

I ride my bike wherever I can. I even bought those saddlebag things so I can go to the grocery store on my bike.

It is not just about saving money on fuel, it is about the environment, and about exercise. There is no downside to this for me, but I know California has a different weather situation than most places. I should be able to use my bike at least 10 months of the year.

Your numbers really frightened me.



dguzman said...

Sue--us too. We live in the stix and it's a long way into town for Kat's school. Ugh.

Spartacus--a good point. I think the only solution now is solar power, power that can be used by everyone.

Dusty--but what percentage of their incomes do they pay for that gas? And do they have mass transit or other non-petro means of getting around?

Jess--exactly. That will become more and more common, I think.

Matty Boy--oy vey, four jobs? You poor soul. But you do live in a great area (SF).

Fran--I had three Corollas--the Cowrolla was never even shown to me! Damn those slick car salesmen!

Barbara--where will you go?

DCap--I think a lot people expect gas prices to go back down--naive. It'll only get worse, and if we think the economy sucks now, we're in for even worse times.


karenzipdrive said...

Not long ago, the publisher of the magazine I used to edit offered me another job that would have involved a lot of travel by car.
It looked like a fun job so I took it, but recently I gave it back because the income wouldn't have compensated for the gas I'd have to burn to make the income.
My sister-in-law, who commutes about 100 miles a day between work and home just traded in her Benz on a fucking Toyota Yaris.
It's whacked, but I'm sure when he visits, Bush gets all the free sodas and snacks he wants to Exxon/Mobil headquarters.

Dusty said...

A couple of folks I know in England say their mass transit is great.

I don't know the other things you asked..sorry :(

Mauigirl said...

Hmmm, I see a great excuse for working from home most of the time in the future!

And yes, buying a Prius should be on all of our lists - until something better comes out (I hear they are working on bringing out fully electric cars again - but you also have to take into consideration the fuel and cost of producing the electricity that charges them or creates the batteries they run on).

Scary stuff.