Commentary: These days, only oil sheiks can afford gas

A motorist gets gas April 18 in Seattle.
A motorist gets gas April 18 in Seattle. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

I pulled into a Kansas City area service station and noticed a guard pumping gas into an armored van near me.

I went inside the service station and gave the attendant $25. The price had gone up 30 cents a gallon since my last fill-up. That $25 would get me less than seven gallons of gas — nowhere close to filling the more than half-empty tank of my van. I am among many Americans frustrated by the sky high price of gas because of instability in the Middle East and the shaky economy. No end to either is in sight. We may see gas jump to $5 a gallon this summer.

If that happens, my vacation will be a nice time at an area campground, of course next to a nice placid lake, where I won't have to fret airfares. Plane tickets will continue to be dramatically affected by crude oil topping $100 a barrel, and hotel and food costs also will keep bumping up because of the spike in oil prices.

I recently changed the oil in my daughter's car and found that even the do-it-yourself cost of four quarts of oil and the filter was more than $25. But I would rather absorb the cost than have her take it somewhere to be done for a higher fee.

I plodded back to my van to add the precious sips of gas to the vehicle's tank. The armed guard was still pumping gas into the new steel-gray Ford van from Omaha. I smiled at him and continued on to my van to start my costly chore but couldn't resist starting my pump and heading over to visit with the guard, knowing that it wouldn't take long before I got every drop that my $25 would buy in gas. These days people need at least fifty bucks to fill their tank.

When I got to the armored car driver at his pump, I said, "You know, a lot of people today feel that they have to have an armored car full of cash just to keep up with today's rising gas prices."

The older man in the security uniform shot back, "At least I don't have to pay to fill this up."

We both laughed, knowing that with the weight of his vehicle and the load he has to carry that his gas mileage was in the single digits. I asked him how large was the tank in his van.

He said 30 gallons. At $3.63 a gallon for regular it would take almost $109 to fill up — more than four times what I was able to give that day for gas. But his vehicle probably used one of the higher octane fuels, which could raise his total to $113 or almost $118.

Those are astronomical numbers. But for Kansas City area commuters going 25 miles one way to work in a vehicle getting 25 miles per gallon, that kind of driving would result in the motorist burning 10 gallons of fuel in a five-day work week. Tack on an additional five gallons for weekend shopping and family trips and that 15 gallons becomes nearly $55 in gas.

Eating out becomes a $1.40 hotdog at QuikTrip or the value menu at a McDonald's. And that's if people eat out at all. The high gasoline prices also could suppress the price of housing in far-flung suburbs causing young families especially to think more seriously about living close to their jobs. The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority could benefit, too, as gasoline prices keep rising.

I hope it will enable the Metro bus service to add more vehicles in the city, increasing the frequency as its ridership and its efficiency improves.

Light rail would be a bigger plus from high gas prices. But in Kansas City gasoline may have to go to $10 a gallon before the trains hit the rails.

Gas at $10 a gallon would result in revolutionary changes.

Pounds would drop as more people start parking their cars and walking or riding the bus.

More bicycles would be on the road with bike lanes eventually taking up an entire lane of thoroughfares on most commuter roads. Traffic on the interstates might fall dramatically.

Only European-style compacts and hybrids getting more than 45 miles per gallon would fill the streets. The center city's population would mushroom along with the student populations of the Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., school districts.

Because most of us know no one who drives an armored car, we will have to start living more sensibly. The wasteful lifestyle that we had enjoyed no longer will be affordable.


Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star's Editorial Board. Readers may write to him at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or by e-mail at Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.