Gilded Age Meets the Gasoline Age

Visiting the Newport Mansions to vicariously experience the glories of the Gilded Age should be on every Rhode Islander’s to-do list. In fact, it’s still on mine, and I’ve been here for almost 4 years now. I’ll get around to it one of these days. But now there is an extra incentive for me to head down to Newport, as long as I do it by car, as I recently learned from a story on my local NPR station.

Evidently, visits to the mansions dropped off in March as gas prices started to rise, so the Preservation Society is offering a $5 rebate on your mansion-visiting ticket if you can show them a vehicle registration. From the WRNI story:

 The Preservation Society’s John Rodman says they are proud to give families a little break. “If the gas price is what’s hurting people then our idea is that we’ll give you some money toward that,” says Rodman.

Here’s the announcement on the Preservation Society’s website:

We could all do well by emulating William K Vanderbilt, Jr.

I can certainly understand how the Preservation Society would want to boost visits during a down period. But is a rebate to those who drive to the mansions, really the best way to do it? Why not just have a seasonal price reduction?* Do they really need to encourage more traffic in Newport when there are plenty of buses that will get you there?

[Uh oh, I feel a smug attack coming on. Prepare yourself for…]

The Inevitable Post About Gas Prices

Yes, it’s come to that. It’s all over the news, gas prices are once again flirting with the magic $4.00 per gallon mark where people start to gripe, politicians begin to grandstand and SUV owners sell off their vehicles for an enormous loss (we haven’t seen that last one yet, but it did start to happen in 2008.) Oh yeah, and transportation cyclists start to feel extra smug.

I feel so smug these days, that I feel comfortable taking pictures of idiotic bumper stickers on the cars in front of me. Like this one:

Not such a bad sentiment, really. Compared to cars, motorcycles are a far more efficient way to move one person around (not as efficient as a bicycle… but I let my smugness make me digress). So it’s not really an idiotic bumper sticker per se, but the placement was kind of surprising:

On the back of a mid-90’s Jeep Cherokee with a 4.0 liter, 6-cylinder engine (MPG: 14 city, 19 highway). I guess I should be happy that it’s not a V-8. I’ll admit that I took this picture from the passenger seat of a friend’s car (I guess that makes me a hypocrite). I’ll keep going with this holier-than-thou thing for just a little while longer…

I mentioned politicians grandstanding earlier. Some blame restrictions on domestic drilling, others blame commodity speculators. When you move away from the bloviating, it’s pretty easy to see that the gas prices are the result of supply and demand. Global demand for oil continues to rise, mostly as a result of rapid development in China and India. Global supply does not rise as quickly. Prices go up. What can we do about it in the short term? Reduce demand. Every time I ride my bike, I’m helping to reduce demand and thus I put downward pressure on gas prices for everyone else. That’s right, transportation cyclists help make gas cheaper for everyone else.

You’re welcome.

*I’ll be honest with myself and say that I’m sure the $5.00 rebate has almost nothing to do with gas prices. It was a publicity stunt – a way to tie a seasonal price reduction to something in the news. A way to get publicity on a slow news day. And it worked, good for them! Now I’m more likely to finally visit the mansions. I could even ask for the $5.00 rebate and present my bus ticket instead of a vehicle registration – it would be an excellent opportunity for me to be a pedantic bore to a customer service rep who had nothing to do with the decision to tie the rebate to vehicle ownership.

One more footnote: some Newporters are working to encourage cycling there and helping to save their neighbors some gas money. Check for info on Newport’s version of Bike to Work Day.


4 responses to “Gilded Age Meets the Gasoline Age

  1. Here’s more on the price of gasoline. The whole system is gamed from the time the oil comes out of the ground to create an artificial supply and demand curves.

    The trading of oil on the futures market is, quite honestly, ridiculous. You’re BETTING that the price will go up over time. That’s one thing that bothers me, oil should NEVER be traded as a future. It isn’t a commodity by any stretch of the imagination.

    One other thing, we keep refining capability in the U.S. to the point where supplies are kept artificially low in order to drive up prices.

    So the real price of gallon of gasoline should be more like $1.50 than $4.00. It’s the oil and refining companies getting rich at our expense. Of course the companies will say it’s their stockholders.

    So what we need to do is a grassroots effort to get those ‘stockholders’ to realize they are supporting a regime that is untenable.

    Now on the flip side, I want to see an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead spend the money on two primary things among many others:

    A massive R&D program to develop and manufacture inexpensive batteries with quick charge capabilities, high energy densities, and a large amount of charge/discharge cycles. If we could put a man on the moon, we can build an energy storage device as I’ve described above.

    Then, massive subsidies to those purchasing electric or hybrid electric vehicles. I’m talking something on the order or $15,000 to $20,000 incentives or tax breaks. Here’s one way you could do it, no excise tax on a new electric vehicle for the first five years. On a car in Providence, a $20,000 vehicle is $1,450, and the depreciation of time would amount to a bit under $10K in excise tax breaks. And the state, they should waive the sales tax. The federal government could use the incentive money to reimburse the states for that.

    • 5 minutes after hitting the “publish” button I realized that the real reason that gas prices are going up is because I haven’t been riding my bike for the last 5 weeks. I’m riding the bus instead, and the additional 160 pounds of weight on the bus is causing RIPTA to buy more gas, thus increasing demand, thus raising the price for everyone. So, sorry about that. My collarbone should be healed soon and I’ll be back on my bike, dutifully bringing down gas prices for everyone.

      Truthspew, I’ll agree with you that we need to invest in massive R&D to get off the internal combustion engine and out of the whole oil business. Of course, this will just push our energy needs into electricity which means coal so there won’t be much improvement on carbon front. However, spending our energy money in the US is far better for the economy than sending it overseas. (Or we could just use less energy by building smarter and using human powered transportation for trips under 2 miles)

      As far as your argument re: oil as a commodity, I’m afraid I don’t really know enough on the topic. Care to throw a few links up here?

  2. I will buy you a box of donuts if you go to the mansions, present your bus ticket, and demand your $5.

    • Unfortunately, I probably won’t have time before Memorial Day. I’m moving to a new place, doing renovations, working and a bunch of other stuff. It will have to remain a fantasy just like going to the police station and asking about the car parked on the sidewalk in Kennedy Plaza.

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