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Swarming to public transit, cheaper gas

Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, met with cycling advocacy groups at South Station on Thursday to introduce the Greenbush Commuter Rail Bike Coach. Daniel A. Grabauskas, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, met with cycling advocacy groups at South Station on Thursday to introduce the Greenbush Commuter Rail Bike Coach. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Noah Bierman
May 18, 2008

Americans are flocking to public transportation right now, demanding better gas mileage in their cars like never before, and - just maybe - seeking to use staggering gas prices to have a real debate about the true cost of oil dependence.

And then there's Chrysler's solution: artificially cheap gas. Sure, Toyota and Honda started selling hybrid vehicles while American car companies continued to rely on minivans and sport utility vehicles for the past decade.

But don't let that bother you, America.

Earlier this month, Chrysler unveiled an incentive with the most optimistic of titles, "Let's Refuel America."

Golly, this seems like a great deal, American innovation at its finest. Buy a vehicle like a Dodge Ram truck (13 miles per gallon in the city, 18 on the highway), and Chrysler will make sure you don't pay more than $2.99 per gallon for the next three years. You can choose almost any vehicle in the Chrysler fleet, except a sports car or the popular Jeep Wrangler.

So swig away on that gas and don't worry about the hangover. Chrysler's magic gas card will refund the difference on that Dodge Charger. (The most fuel efficient model gets 18 miles per gallon city and 26 highway.)

Chrysler spokesman Stuart Schorr assures that the program is also available for six vehicle models that get 28 miles per gallon or better on the highway. Those models are gaining in popularity, he said.

"I think people looking for a higher-mileage car will stay that way," Schorr said. "They won't change for the program."

Still, most Chrysler customers prefer something a little bigger. Only 33 percent buy cars; the rest go for SUVs, minivans, or trucks.

Schorr says more Americans want better fuel economy and the company is beginning to introduce some hybrid versions of its SUV and pickup trucks this year. But hybrid versions of SUVs and pickups rarely make giant leaps in fuel efficiency.

And with this program, Chrysler does not look like a company preparing to help America wean itself off gas. In fact, the gas incentive saves the most money for people who buy vehicles that get the worst mileage.

The new gas program gives buyers other options: They can take cash back or lower interest rates instead of the hedge on gas prices if they prefer.

It's easy to see why the gas deal will attract some customers. Those who buy a new car right now can save more money buying more fuel efficient vehicles - generally less expensive than trucks and SUVs - than locking in $2.99 gas prices for the next three years.

And what happens when the three years end? Programs like this one have the perverse economic impact of making gas more expensive, said Jeroen Struben, a postdoctoral associate at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Stimulating people to buy more gas by disguising costs makes demand - and prices - go up in the long run, said Struben.

MBTA's Latino Alliance,officials discuss diversity
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Latino Alliance, a group promoting diversity at the T, has been meeting with transportation officials over the past few months as the group tries to build a higher profile for the T's Hispanic workers. Members say they are pleased so far with the T's interest in recruiting and promoting more Hispanics.

But group members want a bigger prize. They lobby Governor Deval Patrick to use one of his upcoming appointments on the MBTA board to appoint what they say would be the first Hispanic member in the history of the panel. Patrick will replace four of the nine board members whose terms are expiring June 30.

In a letter to Patrick last week, the alliance nominated Jarrett T. Barrios, former state senator, who lives in Jamaica Plain. Barrios, who now heads the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, said he is supportive of their efforts to promote diversity, but has had no conversations with the Patrick administration about an appointment.

A Patrick administration spokesman would not comment on whom the governor is considering for the appointments.

Can't get there...

  • Two or three lanes of Interstate 93 south approaching and through Downtown to South Bay will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Tuesday.
  • The Storrow Drive onramp to I-93 south will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The Haymarket onramp to I-93 south and Callahan Tunnel will close 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Tuesday.
  • The exit ramp from I-93 south to Government Center and the Callahan Tunnel will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
  • I-93 south exits 20A South Station and 20B to Interstate 90 west (the Massachusetts Turnpike) and Albany Street will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Tuesday.
  • Two or three lanes of I-93 north through Downtown and Charlestown will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Thursday.
  • I-93 north Exit 26, to Storrow Drive will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. tomorrow through Thursday.
  • The Sumner Tunnel onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 11:30 p.m. today to 5 a.m. tomorrow and from 10 p.m. tomorrow to 5 a.m. Thursday.
  • The Haymarket onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 11:30 p.m. today to 5 a.m. tomorrow and 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. tomorrow through Thursday.
  • The Essex Street onramp to I-93 north will be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The ramp at I-93 north Exit 20 to I-90 east will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • The I-90 east high occupancy vehicle tunnel to Logan Airport will be closed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow and from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Wednesday through Thursday.
  • The ramp at I-90 east exits 24B and 24C to I-93 north and south will be closed from 11:30 p.m. today to 5 a.m. tomorrow.
  • Access from South Boston to I-90 east and Logan Airport will be closed from 10 p.m. tomorrow to 5 a.m. Tuesday.
  • Access from Frontage Road and Albany Street to I-90 east and Logan Airport will be closed from 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
  • Lanes on I-90 east near the Prudential Tunnel to the I-90/I-93 Interchange will be closed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. tomorrow through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday.
  • Lanes on I-90 east near Interchange 18, 19, and 20 will be closed from 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. today through Thursday.

    Globe correspondent Sarah Gantz contributed to this report.

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