Tax rebates and subsidies are only a short-term solution to the financial burden of high gas prices, says a Virginia Tech urban transportation expert, and city planners and policy makers are missing the larger issue of transportation and land-use systems that do not offer people choices.

“We have to design transportation systems that offer alternatives to driving. People should easily be able to shift some trips to walking, cycling or public transportation,” says Professor Ralph Buehler, who studies transportation and car-dependence in Western Europe and North America. “Instead, all levels of government have subsidized driving over many decades with inexpensive gasoline, cheap or free parking, and forced local zoning that separates homes from work, shopping, and leisure activities.”

Drivers in the U.S. and Europe are feeling the pinch over the steep climb in gasoline prices over the last several weeks.

Buehler says that many car manufacturers have built and marketed ever larger gas-guzzling vehicles that offset most technological innovations in fuel efficiency. As a result, many drivers simply do not have a choice other than to drive.

“Building car-dependent communities and incentivizing car-dependence is irresponsible. It is even a national security threat and a threat to the national economy for many countries.”

“Governments should stop subsidizing driving and start creating communities that offer a choice in modes of transportation where people can reach destinations of their daily needs, such as work, school, or grocery stores via bicycle or public transport,” says Buehler.

“When the next gas price surge comes around, then we can just respond by driving less—which also increases public health and reduces local and global pollution,” says Buehler. “Many communities round the globe and in the U.S. and Virginia have shown that it is possible.”

About Buehler
Ralph Buehler is a professor of urban affairs and planning in the School of International and Public Affairs at Virginia Tech in the greater Washington, D.C. metro region. His research areas focus on understanding individual travel behavior and the sustainability of transport systems in urban areas. His is also the co-editor of the books Cycling for Sustainable Cities and City Cycling.

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