Coping with Gas Prices in the UK and LA

Americans are furious about paying $4 a gallon, but the pump price in Britain is more than twice that. In California, lawmakers are considering a bill where drivers in car-happy Los Angeles County pay higher fees to fund public transportation projects.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

It's Day to Day from NPR News, I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. Although oil prices have actually dropped a little bit over the last two weeks, gas prices have not and four dollars a gallon? That's a reality in many U.S. cities.

CHADWICK: How about the equivalent of nine dollars a gallon? That's what British motorists are paying. And like drivers here in this country, many are very unhappy about the price. Here's a little sample of opinion from London.

Unidentified Male #1: Basically we will moan and groan and everything else, but when it comes actually to doing something about it, we let it be.

Unidentified Male #2: I mean what the price of fuel's gone up over a pound in not even a year?

Unidentified Male #3: Yeah, it's getting a bit on the ridiculous side. Not much we can do about it.

Unidentified Male #1: It's just a rip off. It's going up about a penny every day.

Unidentified Male #4: I think the government should cut the rate of tax on fuel.

Unidentified Male #1: You know if I had my fare going up a penny everyday, I'd be a millionaire.

CHADWICK: British motorists complaining about the high price of fuel in that country.

BRAND: Here in the States, while consumers are worrying about prices, some lawmakers are trying to tackle global climate change. In southern California, a lawmaker is pushing a plan that would reduce greenhouse gasses and road congestion. Nate Berg reports.

NATE BERG: At more than four dollars a gallon, gas prices are already too high for many Angelinos. But a new bill moving its way through the state legislature could push that price up another nine cents. All that loose change would add up to create a county public transportation fund worth more than 400 million dollars a year.

Mr. MIKE FEUER (Democrat, California State Assembly): The status quo is not acceptable.

BERG: That's Mike Feuer a Democrat in the California state Assembly. He represents Los Angeles and is the author of the bill.

Mr. FEUER: No one would say that we can be sanguine about the impact of global warming. No one would say that L.A. status as the number one sore place for air pollution in the country ought to continue to be so. And no one would say we have a muscular public transport infrastructure here in Los Angeles. The question is what are we going to do about it?

BERG: What he wants to do is let LA's transit agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority bring his funding idea before the county's voters. The MTA can either ask voters to support the gas fee, or an additional fee of up to ninety dollars on their annual car registrations. The money it raises would fund public transit projects and programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In a county with nearly six million registered drivers, getting enough voters behind the bill will be a challenge. But Feuer thinks it can be done and now's the time to do it.

Mr. FEUER: For the first time here in Los Angeles there's a real openness to thinking in new ways about how we get from one place to another. I clearly think the time is right here because of that awareness, to try and give voters these kinds of choices.

BERG: But for industries that rely on gasoline, a rise in price is a tough sell.

Mr. ANTOINE ROYSTER (Board of Directors, Greater California Livery Association): You're asking one segment to help another segment I think it's just unfair.

BERG: Antoine Royster is on the board of directors of the Greater California Livery Association, which represent limousine drivers in California. Los Angeles is a major market for limos and when gas prices rise, limo prices rise.

Mr. ROYSTER: We have to pass on those additional fees to the client, bottom line. It's affecting not only us, but our clientele.

BERG: Americans pay some of the lowest taxes on gasoline in the world. And Feuer says taxpayers are going to have to play a bigger role in funding transit if it's ever going to improve. Much of the burden he says is going to have to fall on the driver. At this old service station in busy central Los Angeles, Autta Mann (ph) and Rudolph Porter (ph) are filling up their tanks. Like every other driver questioned here they are not happy about Feuer's proposal.

Ms. AUTTA MANN: It just seems like we're already paying so much for gas.

Mr. RUDOLPH PORTER: I don't like the idea. I think gas is high enough and I think that they need to find the money elsewhere.

BERG: For public transportation systems, finding the money elsewhere is already happening. They couldn't stay in operation without government and taxpayer money. But getting money directly from drivers is relatively new territory. And while it may make LA drivers uneasy, for bus riders like Chris Griffin (ph).

Mr. CHRIS GRIFFIN: I think it's an awesome idea.

BERG: Griffin is riding a bus down L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard.

Mr. GRIFFIN: Yeah, I pay taxes on a lot of stuff that I don't use.

BERG: Feuer's bill was just approved by the California state Assembly it will head next to the state Senate. For National Public Radio, I'm Nate Berg.

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