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Oil plays spoilsport for vacationing Americans

business Updated: May 27, 2008 23:45 IST
Sudha Menon

For months now the US media have been going on endlessly about soaring oil prices and how they are affecting the American way of life. But what really seems to have outraged Americans was the fact they were duped out of their right to go vacationing over this long Memorial Day weekend.

With gas prices hovering close to $4 this weekend, popular nationwide motorist's body AAA, predicted that fewer Americans would hit the road and more of them would prefer staying closer home. Already, the federal highway administration said here this weekend that Americans have traveled 11 billion miles lesser in March 2008 than in the same period last year.

Everyone has been hurt by spiraling oil prices-the big three auto companies, including Ford Motor Company, have announced production cuts in its large trucks and SUVs, vehicles that Americans love to buy. Used-car dealerships are a telling sight of the American plight, with large pick-ups and SUVS now dominating the horizon with For Sale signs.

The Congress has just finished an annual summer exercise - the lining up of oil company executives to haul them up over the coals about the single most uniting factor in this country. Everyone is mad about oil prices that have gone up over 24 per cent in the last year, including President George W Bush who is just back from a visit to Saudi Arabia where he requested the country to produce more oil. Solutions of all kinds are being tossed up from every quarter, including the Democrats who wants the profits of oil companies to be taxed to others who want the federal government to release oil from its strategic petroleum reserves--a stockpiling of oil to hedge against any sudden disruption of oil supplies.

But in the true American spirit of enterprise, a few have found ways to work around the problem. Earlier this month, automaker Chrysler LLC announced it would offer customers a gas price protection policy that would protect them from further spikes in gas prices. San Francisco, where gas prices are among the highest, recently saw a choir director organise a prayer meeting to bring down gas prices at a local Chevron gas station. Last month, an Iowa church announced it would offer 25 cents discount to members who purchased to attend Easter services.

One hospitality company actually put out ads luring vacationers to its resort during the Memorial Day weekend by offering, among other things, bargain room rates and free gas vouchers.

And while these might be short-term fixes to get over what now looks like something that Americans will have to learn to live with--gas prices are expected to touch the $6 a gallon in the medium term--others are finding more permanent measures.

The Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority (MBTA), the body that runs the commuter rail, the subway, harbor cruise and road transport, is now undertaking an exercise that will soon allow cost and environment conscious people in this state to bike to work, at least partially. Already work is in progress to allow office-goers to cycle to the nearest bus or T-station, load their cycles in a few reserved compartments and on reaching their destination, cycle to work.