Friday’s Globe and Mail featured a prediction by Jeffrey Rubin, the CIBC World Markets economist, that damage from Hurricane Gustav and other intense storms this season could cause a sudden spike in gas prices to $1.75 a litre.
Every time there is a price spike, the media runs to the local gas station to cover the “pain at the pumps”. But does that pain translate into a change in behaviour? How much of an impact do gas prices have on the commuting public in the GTA? Do increasing gas prices cause people to make different personal transportation decisions, or are households just absorbing the extra costs?
It appears that gas prices are affecting vehicle purchasing decisions (sorry GM), but are consumers switching from private vehicles to other modes of transportation? I would love to see the research on that. (Perhaps our friends at Metrolinx have some sources they can share? If readers know of recent research on this question, please leave a link in the comments.)
Surely demographic factors influence gas price sensitivity and the substitution of one mode of transportation for another. It makes sense that household incomes will affect price sensitivity, with the working poor being hit hardest. At the same time, many service workers need to use private vehicles to get to or perform their work (i.e. not the GO train Bay Street crowd) and have few alternatives. This creates a political problem that will bring calls for action.
But I also believe that there is a relationship to a another familiar demographic trend with political and policy implications: Boomer parents versus their Gen Y children.
The economic conditions that supported the tremendous growth of North American suburbs during the last half of the 20th century – cheap energy and the modern industrial production system – appear to be undergoing a sharp reversal. What do these signals of the future mean for the suburbs and the demands that will be placed on politicians asked to respond to these changes?
You don’t have to be a peak oil theorist to recognize – as James Smith, CEO of Shell UK has – that “the era of easy oil is over”. The reality that we are not going to ever return to an age of cheap oil is just starting to sink into the consciousness of the marketplace, electorate and policy-makers. Scenarios of a serious supply crunch and $200 a barrel oil are no longer on the fringe.
The Freakonomics blog at NY Times recently held a quorum inviting a small group of smart and opinionated experts to imagine the future of American suburbia in 40 years time. The responses vary from James Kunstler’s “the suburbs have three destinies, none of them exclusive: as materials salvage, as slums, and as ruins” to the more hopeful “Suburbia will be flexible, it will be smarter, and it will be hybrid” of John Archer.
A big congratulations to my friend, collaborator and inspiration Mark Surman on his appointment as Executive Director for the Mozilla Foundation. This is fantastic news for the future of the open web and a great decision by Mozilla after a gruelling selection process.
Mark has been posting some really important ideas about the future of Mozilla beyond the Firefox browser and open source software. Read The Next Million Mozillians and A few concrete things Mozilla Foundation might do to get a sense of Mark’s thinking. I’m excited for what Mark’s appointment means for the future direction of Mozilla, the most successful and important open source social enterprise in the world.
He was a primary instigator of Open Cities, which he is now following up with Open Everything. Mark is passionate about the future of the open web, community management practices and taking what we can learn from open source software to apply to peer production in other domains.