Saturday, August 16, 2008

Stuff I'm still not getting

The gas crunch is upon us. I complain about it, considering it has doubled our gasoline bill (just like everybody else). But I try to keep my complaining in check because I am very aware that it could be a lot worse, like the price of gas in Europe. While we gnash our teeth at prices hovering around $4.00/gallon for regular unleaded, and even higher in some places around the US, the price of gas in London is over $11 per US gallon and in France the price is nearly $9.00 per US gallon for Super Unleaded.

So, I consider myself lucky that I at least can still afford to have a car. When I did my study abroad in Ireland in 1993 for a semester of college, all my Irish friends and family thought I was really wealthy because I had my own car and my parents each had a car. I tried to tell them that it was that way all over the US but I think it was hard for them to get it. The family I lived with didn't have a car at all. They walked or took the bus everywhere.

If I lived in Europe I think I could probably do that too. I believe, based on my somewhat limited knowledge, that European cities are set up to survive without cars, if necessary. Mass transit is much more available. Cities are more compact. Europe itself is not as sprawling as, say, Texas. Can you imagine mass transit that would serve all Americans effectively? No, me neither.

Which brings me to the thing I don't get this week: Amtrak. I rode the train when I was a little girl with my Brownie Troop. We went from St. Louis to the state capital (Jefferson City). We took a tour of the capital building and met a state representative then took the train back. I don't know how much the ticket cost but I'm sure we sold enough Thin Mints to cover the bill.

Recently my blog friend Bridgett wrote a blog about taking the train from St. Louis down to Texas to pick up her niece, then going back to St. Louis. I thought, hey I'll check into this to see if I could cart all my kids up to St. Louis for a visit. Yeah, I know it will take a while to get there but if I don't have to drive or spend the money for a hotel room it may work out. Here's the result of my investigation: With an adult and 3 children (plus one free infant), the trip would take over 17 hours each way. AND IT WOULD COST OVER $700.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor I re-read everything to make sure I had the information correct. Yup. I immediately began to laugh. Who would seriously think that's a good idea for family travel, unless you are afraid of flying? No offense Bridgett! I mean, for $700 (or just a little bit more) I can probably fly myself and my 3 kids and keep my baby in my lap, and get there in 3 hours. Since it's going to be a lot of cash to drop at one time, I certainly wouldn't take everyone unless I could get a good airfare deal. I mean, really, what is Amtrak thinking??? The last time I rode Amtrak, up to Chicago just after college, the train wasn't even really that clean and the train ended up breaking down. We had no power at all. So while we were stranded, we couldn't even use the toilet because it wouldn't flush. I kept thinking, Thank God I'm not in the air because we would've crashed with all these mechanical failures! But I have no sympathy for Amtrak if they are boo-hooing over the lack of passengers on their fleet of slow, antiquated, ailing trains when their fares clearly are not showing how much they are trying to attract business.

Now, if the trains were nicer, or faster, or cheaper, I would probably use them all the time. I don't know what the pull is for Amtrak. Obviously the pull for airplanes is that they're fast. The pull for cars is that you can pack a bunch of people in a van for the same price as for 1 or 2 people (so it ends up being cheaper than flying). Plus, freedom to come, go, stop as you like. But Amtrak? Schedules - yep. High prices - yep. As slow as driving - yep. Unreliable - yep. Outdated seating area - yep. But wait, they've got.... I mean, the train is great because..... I just really like Amtrak when..... no, there's nothing.

So I'm leaving on a jet plane. Don't know when I'll be back again....


Perez Family Spot said...

Hi there. I'm over from SITS and just wanted to say HI from another Texan here. I am also originally from MO. I was born in KC and lived in Independence. But I have lived in TX most of my life. I LOVE the post about the letter to yourself when you were 18 and also the one about the gym, too cute. I am running out of post topics and picture ideas, so I have resorted to talking about my mother in law of all things. How sad is that?

Karly said...

I looked in to train costs as well for a trip to Denver (from IL) and it was ridiculous! Then again, so is the price of flying.

Bridgett said...

That's funny...STL to Mineola was $115 for Sophia and me, and $115 home (my brother paid the $38 for my niece). Dallas was $20 more each way.

$230 round trip beat the pants off driving; I will not fly nowadays unless a) it was an emergency, like a funeral, or b) it would take me two days to drive there and driving wasn't part of the trip. My last flying experience was so hideous I'm still having anxiety dreams about it.

So I always compare train to car. Plane is not in the works for me right now.

Stacy said...

I agree with you about Amtrak- I always think the same thing of Greyhound. Its EXPENSIVE, slow, and you have to stop at every wide spot in the road.
I spent time in Denmark, and went everywhere using the bus, the train, and my feet. It was great. If that level of public transportation existed here I'd use it.

Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING said...

RIGHT ON! I still think the US would benefit from a rapid transit train system like Europe's though. I would prefer not to drive and would totally use public transportation now that my kids are older.


Trooper Thorn said...

I'm with you; train travel is ridiculous. I can drive across the country for a fraction of the cost of the train and do it in less time too.

Only someone with lots of dough, time and no concern for personal comfort would consider a train trip.

Kellan said...

I wish there was some answer - the gas prices are CRAZY! I also live in Texas (WOO HOO!) and you know as well as I do that you can't go anywhere in Texas without it taking a good long while and that means it cost $! I've never riden on Amtrak, but my fathe has used it many times over the years. I know the prices have really gone up and it doesn't make sense.

Thanks for coming by my site - so nice to see you. Hope to see you again soon - Kellan