Driving back from St. Louis this past Friday I was reminded of an all too familiar phenomenon; the Chicago area gets hit much harder each time gas prices start to rise.
I did some quick research into state gas taxes and found that Illinois has the 7th highest rate in the nation at nearly 39 cents per gallon. This doesn't include county and municipal taxes that add another 11 cents per gallon in the City of Chicago. Missouri, by comparison, is the 6th lowest at not quite 18 cents.
When I refueled in Hannibal Missouri at the start of my week long trip, gas was a full 60 cents cheaper than when I filled up in Lake Zurich Illinois the day before. Now I'm no mathematician, but I could have sworn that 39 - 18 was 21, not 60. I'm pretty sure Lake Zurich and Lake County don't add 39 cents in taxes to each gallon I pump.
I've grown accustomed to seeing this state-to-state discrepancy as I travel throughout the Midwest. In stable times, gas prices reflect the tax difference - Wisconsin is usually 6 to 15 cents less while Minnesota hovers between 10 and 25 cents cheaper. But when gas prices are on the rise, the gap widens significantly and Chicagoans pay far more than just the tax differential. If we're not being willfully gouged, what other explanation can possibly exist for Springfield having gas prices a full 60 cents lower than Rolling Meadows this past Friday?
The last time I checked, Springfield was in Illinois and the only price difference should be added county and municipal taxes. With Cook County at 6 cents per gallon, Rolling Meadows would have to be tacking on another 54 cents for this to be the case. We know that's not accurate. And despite our early summer weather, it's still too early in the season for Chicagoans to pay a premium for the special EPA summer ozone blend.
So why are we paying so much more each time gas prices start to rise?
The short answer is simple; we have no control over market forces.
Whether these forces are speculators that account for 40% of the cost of a barrel of oil, opportunistic oil companies raising prices well in advance of cost increases, monopolistic refiners who no longer compete on price, or distributors and retailers hedging against future price increases - none is within the control of the average driver. Our only options are to pay up or drive less.
Did you know that cars are used for 75% of trips under one mile?
That's a pretty sad statistic. We hop in our cars and drive 5,280 feet. That's 2,100 steps. A 20-minute walk. A five-minute bike ride. How much time does anyone save by driving a mile instead of riding a bike?
If you extend the range to two miles - an easy, relatively sweat-free bike ride that will take anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes - you can cut down on the short car trips that burn the most fuel per mile (and create the greatest emissions) and start taking control of your transportation budget. Think of all the local places you frequent - convenience store, dry cleaners, hair salon, take-out restaurants, library, community center, etc - and ask yourself if you could just as easily ride your bike there.
A simple way to determine how bike-friendly your neighborhood is for these short trips is to open up Google Maps angd select the bicycle option while mapping directions. The route may not be as direct as your typical car route, but it will be the safest for a bike trip.
If you are considering commuting to work by bike, take a minute to read these tips on the blog's Facebook Fan Page.
I'm tired of getting incensed about rapidly rising gas prices. The only cure I see for stressing out each time I go to the pump is to make a conscious effort to go to the pump less frequently. With an early spring, I can make the effort to make more trips by bike and less trips by car.
Feel free to share your suggestions for saving gas in the comments section below. If you have specific questions about riding a bike for transportation, ask away and I'll do my best to find an answer for you.
Keep riding and be safe!
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