In the news

WashPIRG
|
Seattle PI
By
Larry Lange

A consumer group that favors increased funding for mass transit thinks it knows how a lot of households spent the economic-stimulus checks being mailed out by the federal government: putting higher-priced gasoline in their cars.

In a study released Wednesday, the Washington Public Interest Research Group said a family of a single parent with three children, or a couple with one child who filed joint tax returns, would have spent the equivalent of a $1,500 stimulus check between the week of Feb. 11, when the stimulus legislation was enacted, and this week.

The conclusion was based on federal government estimates of vehicle miles traveled and on average miles-per-gallon fuel economy, calculated to determine the number of gallons households bought in a week and the price paid each week, WASHPIRG said.

The study, citing federal Energy Department data, said an average household spent just over $60 weekly on gasoline in February of this year but now spends more than $90 per week. WASHPIRG staff members said the money in the checks is entering the economy, but fuel prices mean it's not as broadly redistributed to a variety of sectors as was intended.

"It's akin to families signing over their stimulus checks to big oil," said Jena Johnson, a WASHPIRG campaign organizer. Program associate Blair Anundson said more of the money should be going to other parts of the economy.

It could not be determined how many of the 124 million federal stimulus checks will be for $1,500. Anundson could not estimate how quickly a family would have spent a smaller check, but guessed that those families with cars "are even worse off."

The consumer group said government policies need to reflect the higher costs and the fact that many more people are taking mass transit to work and leaving cars at home.

It said Americans took 2.6 billion trips on public transportation in the first three months of this year, nearly 85 million more than in the same period a year ago, and it cited federal data showing that Americans are driving fewer miles for the first time since the late 1970s.

WASHPIRG staff members said more money needs to be invested in local transit agencies, some of which are having trouble meeting demand and paying rising fuel costs for buses.

More King County Metro buses, for example, are running behind schedule trying to board a growing numbers of riders, and the agency faces a $13 million budget shortfall this year because of higher diesel prices.

The WASHPIRG staff used a news conference Wednesday to stump for House Resolution 6052, a measure in Congress that would increase federal spending on transit equipment and operating subsidies.

Raising fares to offset rising costs could discourage transit commuting at a time when consumers could use it to save money, WASHPIRG said. The report said congestion adds to the problem, costing commuting drivers for the price of fuel they waste waiting for traffic to clear.

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