Gas prices are exploding around the globe, and as far as I can see, the only reason for this is pure speculation, as nobody’s stopped buying Russian oil or drilling. The amount of oil on the market is the same as 4 weeks ago. This of course causes a lot of issues and once again, several things can be true at the same time:
- People whose car price would pay off my mortgage complain about gas prices
- Combustion engines are bad for the environment anyway
- Our cities have been planned for cars over the last 50 years
- Some people could bike to work or use public transport but don’t do so for stupid reasons
- Not everybody can reduce the use of their cars
- Small incomes are disproportionately affected
- Gleeful “just use a bike” advice is classist, ableist and sexist
Huh? I hear you say. How is the advice classist and sexist?
People who advocate for biking and public transport (and there are many great and thoughtful people doing that, but also a bunch of loud and privileged people, usually male, who annoy the fuck out of me) will usually point to our fucked up city planning, lack of public transport and accessibility and then propose to solve this by simply making cars very expensive and inconvenient. They will point to a past where we all had streetcars and no individual cars, or to colleges as “walkable communities” and keep forgetting that neither the past nor college are adequate models for our current societies. Back in that glorious past, people worked close to home and by people I mean men. Even though many women still held jobs, their needs were never prominent in public discourse.
If I go back to my grandparents, my grandfathers brought home money, my grandmothers made it last. My maternal grandma’s mornings were spent running errands: walking from small shop A to small shop B, all present in the small village they lived in, taking in small sewing jobs from better off relatives, taking in orders and doing deliveries for a seed merchant, and so on, and so on. The afternoons were spend doing chores and gardening. My grandparents never needed a car because my grandma would do all these things while he was at work.
Times changed. The small shops vanished for the supermarkets, the local supermarkets vanished for the huge departments stores outside of town. But not only that, society changed as well. More women started to participate in the workforce, leading to a higher demand of childcare. And also people were required to be more flexible and take up jobs that are not within an easy distance. Whenever I bring up that argument, people tell me folks should just move closer to the job. When I ask them which job we should move closer to, mine or my husband’s, they often get angry, because they notice that they haven’t thought about this. Women’s job are often worse paid, they work shorter hours and they have to still juggle all the things grandma had to do. They have to take the kids to daycare/school, do their doctor’s appointments, get them to sports… Quite often, this is only possible with the convenience of a car. This also means that women are disproportionally affected by measures that make cars more expensive and less convenient. At some point, the cost is higher than the earning, the workload just gets too much, and once again women find themselves pushed out of the workforce. So yeah, insisting that commuters fix the problem individually punishes women for living ion a sexist society. It’s a great example of how something can be sexist without anybody ever having consciously thought a sexist thought, but by having failed to consider how something would affect women differently than men.
On to the classism. This seems even less intuitive than the sexism. After all, a bike is cheaper than a car, right? That is true, and in the long run it may be a good alternative for people with short commutes. I’m all in favour of building good biking infrastructure, not just painting lines on the road. Bikes are amazing. I just bought one last year, after not having one for several years. And do you know what? It costs money. A decent city bike that can take small potholes, has working brakes, and is safe in traffic costs a couple of hundred Euros. If your commute is longer and reachable by an ebike, add a thousand Euros*. Telling people who are currently struggling with paying for heat, electricity, food and transport that they can just spend that amount of money in order to save some in the months to come is classist. People need help now. It’s all good and fine for you to decide that you’d rather freeze and put on two sweaters instead of buying Putin’s gas, but please, don’t tell the parents of a newborn that 15°C are enough.
Personally, I’m just annoyed. I have zero control over my workplace, 90-95% of my driving is for my job, and I’m currently taking a paycut of 100€ a month just for increased gas prices that others don’t have to spend. It doesn’t put us into trouble, and I probably wouldn’t mind if that money was going towards something good, like reshaping infrastructure, or helping refugees, but it’s going directly into the pockets of the oil industry who have zero interest in making any of that happen.
*Oh, and getting back to sexism: it’s a problem for women who work more often in customer facing jobs to arrive at work “presentable” when biking for 10 km