In the good old days, when I was growing up, the Fifties and Sixties, gas cost around 30 cents a gallon, which would take the average car about 12 miles. So driving 120 miles cost around $3, which took the average production worker about an hour and a half to earn. (Some guy working for the minimum wage would have had to work three hours.)

Today, gas prices are so high that Trent Lott is talking about cutting the gas tax temporarily, making up the lost highway-repair funds by dipping into general revenues. At $1.75, a gallon of gasoline today takes the average car about 24 miles. So driving 120 miles costs around $8.75, which takes the average production worker about 40 minutes to earn (and a guy at the minimum wage less than two hours).

Of course, traffic is worse. Then again, many cars these days have CD players and cell phones, so the time spent stuck in traffic is not quite the nightmare it once was. Some even have air conditioning.

Even with today’s higher gas prices, I would not rush to bring back the good old days.

Nor would I shift the cost of highway maintenance away from the gasoline tax and onto the income tax. Better solutions include: (a) waiting for the market to bring prices back down; (b) reminding people they can buy fuel-efficient vehicles if they choose to; (c) continuing to develop safe, comfortable vehicles that in a few years may well get triple the mileage of cars today. After all, what matters is not the cost of gas but the cost of driving a mile.

 

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