Friday 5 December 2008

What happened to the fuel crisis?

Anyone got any idea what a barrel of oil costs today? It's not that long ago that even the homeless guys sleeping rough in a park outside Central station could quote you the Chicago spot price. Now that the price has tanked, the media has largely lost interest in the cost of gooey black stuff.

I caught a bus the other day (punishment for my many sins), and unlike the situation six months ago, the damned thing was half empty. Instead of having a 300 pound woman sitting next to me, drenching me in her sweat, I had the seat to myself. And the row in front was empty too. When I arrived in town, I was completely dry, instead of dry on one side and covered in somebody else's sweat on the other. Do you know how hard it is to read a magazine when you have an arm the size of a pillow filled with marshmallows digging into your ear? (Er, how can a bag of marshmallows "dig" into anything? Simple - a ton of feathers still weighs a ton. A marshmallow arm the size of my thigh still weighs plenty).

When oil cracked through the $100 mark, we suddenly had a public transport crisis where buses were overloaded and people were being left standing on the side of the road for an hour. The NSW government was panicked into rapidly announcing the purchase of lots of new buses (except that the forgot to ask the bus manufacturers whether they had the capacity to actually produce an extra bus this decade).

Will we soon find ourselves in a situation like that photo from New Orleans, where hundreds of empty buses are see abandoned in a parking lot? Did a price spike produce an unnecessary increase in capacity? After trumpeting continual increases in patronage to justify the expenditure of lots of taxpayer funds on new buses, Sydney Buses has gone awfully quiet and has not said a thing about patronage for some time.

Would anyone be surprised that, with the economy going really soft and oil prices heading south, that patronage falls somewhat from when oil was pricey and any idiot could get a job?

(The biggest problem facing the bus companies is not a shortage of buses - it is a shortage of drivers. It's been that way for at least 10 years. It's bad enough driving a car in Sydney - can you imagine the horror of driving a great big bus, full of whingeing grannies?)

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