Young: Your four-door hamster wheel | SummitDaily.com

Young: Your four-door hamster wheel

John Young
Special to the Daily

The grave tone of the TV reporter conveyed end-of-the-world stuff. Brace yourselves, Americans. Events in Iraq likely would cause a jump in gasoline prices.

To which a grave listener would reply: "This is news?"

Whether it's instability overseas or America's accelerator-foot summer itch, something always is causing gasoline prices to jump.

Whatever the cause at the moment, hustle that racquetball-court-on-wheels to the nearest pump and plunk down the requisite $150 to fill it. And then find someone to blame for why gasoline prices are so high.

It's always interesting to hear people who seem so savvy about market forces turn oblivious about the market forces that pertain to petroleum.

They understand the law of supply and demand — until it comes to their insatiable demands for strained and volatile oil supplies.

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Sure, times are tough, Bunky. But a lot that is tough is self-inflicted.

We're motoring through an age in which one would assume gasoline was water-fountain cheap and that operating an automobile was as carefree as dangling one's feet in a pond.

Complain (and we will) about taxes, but nothing taxes our existence like the cars we drive.

Occasionally when intersecting with high-end residential developments, I ponder the prices of the homes, and wonder, "Is there that much money in the whole world?"

The same applies to the vehicles in those driveways. And let's face it, cars with staggering price tags are not exclusive to the exclusive.

Consider the 2014 Ford Expedition. Not considered a luxury car, it's very much a staple of the American road. The low-end version costs $41,975.

Consider the 2014 Dodge Ram 1500 Big Horn. Without add-ons, it costs $30,240.

Let's assume, as one must, that whatever household has either of these vehicles has another vehicle, or two or three.

Any car owner knows that the expenses associated with each far exceeds sticker shock and the blur of dollar signs at the pump. How much? Most of us are afraid to tally it, but the AAA isn't.

AAA estimates that operating a large sedan for around-town driving (10,000 miles a year) costs almost a dollar a mile — 97.5 cents, factoring in fuel, tires, maintenance, insurance, financing and registration.

What this means is that whatever costs Americans might face, whatever financial goals they may have, their vehicles are the principal reason why they seem to go nowhere. It's not interest on credit cards or mortgages, not taxes on income or property.

The good news is that we do have alternatives, or most of us do. A while back when I realized that in driving to work I spent as much time pressing the brake as the accelerator, I started taking a bus. It has become an infatuation.

One transportation alternative that gets too little love from policymakers is sidewalks, one of the best investments a community can make. Unfortunately, though cities will not blink at building and rebuilding streets, they'll find any reason whatsoever not to build walkways.

Where I live, Fort Collins, Colo., the bicycle has become the focal point of a renaissance — a vast network of trails, a city "bike library" that avails wheels to all comers. Bicycling has sparked the kind of enthusiasm that even snowfall can't dampen.

Amid all of the forces that cause us to become more and more addicted to oil and asphalt, here is some good news: The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that the number of young Americans (ages 20-24) with drivers licenses is at its lowest point in 50 years: 79.7 percent.

But isn't car ownership a 21st century necessity? Maybe. Either these young Americans don't want to get ahead, or they don't want the cost of driving a car to put them even farther behind.

Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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