Like most residents, my confidence has been shaken by the fragility of our transportation infrastructure. One pipe breaks, and a cascade of gas sweeps away our car-driven society’s security that gas will always be available on demand at a fair price.
The time has come to heed the governor’s advice, take a couple of deep breaths, and step back from the crisis in confidence that the gas shortage has caused. Now is not the time to play the blame game. We can find out in due course what went wrong, who knew what and when, and then come up with a plan to deal with this issue if it ever arises again. Right now is the time to turn lemons into lemonade and make something good come out of this mess.
First thing we have to do in the short term is take seriously the governor’s call for area residents to find alternative transportation during the gas crisis. Those of us who live and work near convenient bus lines should try to use public transit.
At the same time, we have to take a very hard look at the sacred cow of letting the market set the prices for goods and services in emergencies. We need to stop price gouging and make sure it never happens again, and if that takes a special session of Legislature to enact emergency legislation, then we must do that and do it soon.
I know an argument is made about “market clearing,” and letting the cost float with demand to keep consumption down. That’s a nice free market theory, but that doesn’t get a mom with three kids to the doctor, the grocery store and to schools. Theory doesn’t help the working man or woman who is already struggling to make ends meet when opportunists seize on an emergency to drive the price of gas up to $3 or $4 or more per gallon. Price gouging isn’t a free market, not to the people who have to have the gas to get to work and school and have to pay more and more of their income to get it.
In the long run, however, we need to remember that the rich and poor alike can be caught in this tidal wave that flows from one broken gas line. Although the gas line ruptured on July 30, the spilled gas just exposed a set of chronic issues that have been building for years.
We need to face the fact that there isn’t enough reliable, convenient public transportation. The transportation infrastructure is out of date and inadequate to the task of providing a reliable alternative to private cars. We need to start work now, while public awareness of problem has brought the need for better public transportation to the top of everyone’s agenda.
Finally, we have to recognize that two of our growing problems of energy conservation and air pollution are directly related to our car culture. We need an integrated plan that blends mass transit, pollution controls and energy conservation. We can’t do everything at the state level, but we must start working on a comprehensive program.
Leah Landrum Taylor is a Democrat who represents District 16 in Phoenix.