The big policy takeaway from the news that gasoline costs ate up the biggest share of household income in 3 decades should be that we need to reduce more people’s exposure to fluctuations in gas prices.
The problem isn’t really the gas prices, which we can do very little about, but the way that gas prices restrict Americans’ freedom of mobility.
The actual problem is that we’ve designed so many places where it’s impossible for people to get around any other way than by personal car. This is a massive failure on the part of elite land use planners and politicians who have designed the physical environment for the sole benefit of relatively well-off people. And it’s also a failure of politicians to prioritize investments in transit that would give people more cheap reliable transportation options.
Going forward, we need to expand transit options so that when gas prices keep going up forever people will have other options for getting around. If we get away from funding transit with fares, we could eliminate transit costs as a household budget item for many people, including gas prices. We also need to start building more of the new housing in the areas that are already well-served by existing transit networks, not on cornfields out on the edges of civilization.
Properly understood, transit is a wages issue. Housing and transportation costs keep eating up more and more of people’s income, leaving less and less money available for all the other things in life. There’s no mystery to fixing these problems. We can build our way out of our housing shortage, we can fund transit with land taxes instead of fares, and we can build more new housing closer to employment centers in the already built-up areas.