I would like to begin this article with a warning: what Iím about to say may not sit well with the general populace. I also want you to know, that as of this writing at least, I am completely sober and fully aware that I am going out on a limb here; I also realize that I may very well be the only person on these 7,107 islands who feels this way, but to hell with it, Iíll say what I have to say anyway.
Fuel is too cheap.
There. I said it. Ok, now that I got that off my chest, and before you make your way over to my office to re enact the famous Casino Royale torture scene, hear me out.
Iím pretty sure Iím not the only one to notice that ever since the price of fuel started going down, traffic started going up. Initially I thought it was just down to the pre-Christmas rush, but even after the holidays, traffic seems worse than ever. If that is something you can relate to, then surely you can recognize the familiar cycle. You see, unlike most industries, which work primarily on economies of scale to reduce cost, oil is a precious commodity that is primarily dictated by supply and demand. That is its God, the only thing it respects and bows to.
Oil prices have only come down because it was grossly and artificially inflated. The bubble had to burst. Asides from speculation, demand for it was ridiculously high, and oil producing countries figured they had us all by the short and curlies Ė which technically they did, until the pump price of fuel started to hurt a bit more than the firm grasp they had around our jewels. Thatís when we finally said enough is enough, and (I can speak for my family at least) practically halved our personal consumption by default.
People started selling their sport trucks, LPG businesses boomed, and miraculously, fuel prices dropped. And then dropped again. But this has nothing to do with corporate compassion, or some kind of modern day Zorro coming into town on his white steed and hogtying some rich oil baron to a stake and demanding relief for the people in exchange for his freedom Ė no, this was a simple case of blackmail gone too far.
Itís no different to you finding out that someone had a picture of you in the office pantry with a co-worker in a compromising position that could have you arrested in 49 states; at first you would probably be willing to pay anything just so nobody finds out. Only because you want to keep it quiet.
Now if the blackmailer gets greedy and starts asking for a ridiculous figure that is worth more than the humiliation, youíre liable to just come clean to your partner/boss/the cops/the fruit and vegetable store owner who sold you the large eggplant, or whoever else you didnít want to find out, rather than to cough up the ransom. Now, if you did that, how much would the same picture be worth then? Very little. You would have burst the bubble.
Same goes for fuel. The oil producing companies pushed us over the edge during the summer. And they would have continued to do so, until we finally learned how to live without it, or at least on very little of it. But no, instead they got greedy, like most people do. They crossed that line.
But greed is a two way street. And now that fuel prices have dropped, the same people who screamed bloody murder and cried several rivers of salty tears are back in their gas guzzling SUVs and making the same unnecessary trips that got us all into trouble to begin with. Itís a viscous cycle. Yet amazingly, they will seem genuinely shocked when the same thing happens again in a few months.
It should come as no surprise that if you make the same decisions, do the same actions, take the same route, you will end up in the same place Ė and letís be honest with ourselves, is that where we want to be? Blackmailed by the oil producing nations and forced to pay 60-70 pesos a liter for every precious drop of fuel?
So hereís my proposal. I say slap another 100% tax on fuel, which at todayís rate would make it around 60 pesos a liter, or about the same as during the peak period earlier this year. The extra 30 pesos a liter would go directly to an exclusive road userís fund that is completely transparent, and will be used to fix all of our roads.
At todayís level of consumption, weíre looking at approximately 860 million pesos a day in revenue from the transportation sector alone. Thatís a lot of roads. And before you know it, you would even have surplus cash which could be used to build a decent mass transportation system and underground walkways similar to the ones used in Makati. Busses could eventually be 100% government owned and operated, which would eliminate the problem we have of those rolling coffins dicing dangerously with each other just so they could compete for the same passengers, and the Jeepney could finally be replaced by something from within this century.
Itís no different to the North Expressway example. When they first came out with their 203 peso toll to go from Manila to Clark, there was almost anarchy. But now, I canít think of anyone who would swap that for the 2-3 hour painfully slow crawl that used to happen before. Most of us end up actually saving around 200 bucks in fuel anyway because of the state of the roads and the reduced traffic, and that is not even counting the time, stress and danger that you avoid.
Public transportation vehicles, and perhaps trucks not older than a certain year that deliver raw produce from farm to market, could enjoy subsidized fuel so as not to penalize the poor. This would help to keep down transportation costs for food, and by having an age limit on the busses or trucks that qualify, would encourage having a younger fleet of vehicles, which we all know would be cleaner and a lot safer. The road userís tax would only be putting a premium on the private user, and encouraging them to make more environmentally responsible driving decisions.
Even if fuel was 10 pesos a liter, that doesnít give us the right to gorge on it, just as if lechon all of a sudden dropped down to 10 pesos a kilo, you wouldnít eat ten times more than you need to just because you can afford it. Asides from the fact that we only have a finite supply, there are nasty side effects to using more than you need
I know the idea may sound too simplistic and a painfully naÔve, but I believe it is the closest thing we can find to a solution. Iím not trying to peddle it as a flawless plan, or worse, to argue the politics of why it wouldnít work because of the morals and principals of many of our leaders who would use the money to line their own pockets, Iím here to simply present an idea. An alternative. Feel free to improve on it.
In theory, simply by making the cost more prohibitive, we would be using less fuel, leave a smaller carbon footprint, have less congestion, have less demands on our roads, which would lead to less maintenance, as well as be able to save valuable time and stress, which in itself is almost impossible to put a price on. If we were disciplined enough to conserve fuel without having to do this, then great. But weíre not. The saddest part is if we donít do something as drastic as this, fuel will inevitably rise up again and we would be paying 60-70 pesos a liter anyway without any of these benefits.
Some may still choose to disagree with me, of course, but I think any reasonable, responsible citizen will agree that we need to do our bit. And it has to be a lot more than weíre doing now. We need to be more responsible with our fuel consumption Ė no matter how many roll backs we get. Driving is a privilege, not a right. Letís not wait until itís too late. When the buying stops, so can the killing. Or at least the killing thatís being made at the pumps.