Studies on how to stretch the marginal utility of the world's meager natural resources have been around for years. Back in 1983, at the International Development Economics Center in Yale University's Graduate School, research studies for Africa already postulated that a country's rice supply can double by simply polishing rice to look slightly brown instead of blinding white. Doing this even increases the amount of Vitamin D retained in each rice grain. Which would have done favors to the fight against late onset Diabetes, which hit mostly the poor who are big consumers of white rice. Comforting thoughts for government's who panic about rice shortages. But the idea never flew because rice eaters were brought up to believe that no-so-white rice was not fit for human consumption.
With Japan's acute energy shortage, the Japanese have been forced into Setsuden or energy saving. The trigger was the energy supply shortage caused by the earthquake-tsunami and near nuclear melt-down. Not by the climbing energy prices brought about a recovering world economy and the unrest in the Maghreb and Levant.
The Law of Supply and Demand again
With our bellies closer to the ground, we live and breathe Setsuden whenever fuel costs rise almost every week. There will always be the noisy minority demanding subsidies as their selfish entitlement, and a snowballing of other good rising in price. For fear of appearing to do nothing and powerless against the Law of Supply and Demand, the government has to respond with half baked ideas and knee jerk pronouncements like fuel cards for select members of society.
No more cutting
Truth be told, a lot of fuel, money and time can be saved if only the majority of drivers change the way they drive. Looking at multi-lane urban highways like EDSA, so much fuel can be saved if the teeming buses were to keep to one solitary yellow lane and travel, in speed limited convoy, like a subway train. Buses should not be allowed to overtake each other in the selfish pursuit of the zero sum game; i.e., 4 buses cutting each other for the sake of taking away one fare paying rider from the other 3.
Travel like a train
When the buses travel in a train like convoy and do not overtake, then we can impose a train schedule and mandatory minimum distance between buses. Just like the MRT, where a succeeding train stays a good distance away from another train that arrived a few minutes ahead at the station. With this set up, we can prevent the buses from careening from one bus stop to the next, occupying 4 lanes of 6 lane EDSA, accelerating very hard, pumping the gas pedal only to slam on the brakes at the next bus stop, with all 4 abreast leaving no lane open on EDSA. All that 0-80km/h hard accelerating after leaving a bus stop, the incessant pumping of the gas pedal and hard braking easily triples fuel consumption. But these drivers don't seem to care for so long as they can force the rest of the country to give them cheap fuel so they can drive their merry way.
Proof from Isuzu, Shell and A-1 Driving school
A little more than year ago, Isuzu brought motoring journalists to a road test of their trucks and buses. Isuzu plotted a course that simulated idling, stops and gos, delivery maneuvers, loading/unloading for buses, highway cruising within a certain time frame. Both buses and trucks were laden to their legal maximum capacity with sandbags. Isuzu also invited some truck fleet and bus companies to send their drivers to the test. All were briefed on tips on how to drive economically. One would think that bus drivers, ever conscious of their boundary and the fuel costs that they directly bear would be the best motivated to drive economically. Truck drivers would also be used to being under the watchful eyes of the fleet managers. But the best results were posted by the motoring journalists, many of whom have never driven a truck over three and a half tons. Their fuel economy gap ranged from 30 to 50% better than the best of the experienced truck and bus drivers. This just goes to prove that through the years, the so called experience of several generations of drivers is founded on really bad and wasteful driving. Shell and A-1 Driving School proved that proper driving technique boosts fuel economy by at least 20% in an open participation consumer program they did some 2 years ago.
The motivation for these abusive bus drivers is to learn how to relax, cruise, keep distance and stop treating the accelerator as a foot pump, traffic flow will smoothen out. But the profit motive and up-manship overrides any concern to save money and fuel, leaving it to the government to decrease the fuel price because the drivers just refuse to change their ways.
So how about the private motorist as the next cog to reform? First of all, drivers should watch the road far beyond their hood ornament. This is a basic: seeing where you're going. But most drivers don't. And the evidence of their failure to keep proper distance is the sudden and hard braking one needs to do when surprised by the leading vehicle. In fact, the average driver drives too close to the car in front, jealous that someone might "steal" it from them. They also cannot resist filling in the safe clearance gaps between vehicles. But then, why is this a problem? It shouldn't be and the proper reflex is to maintain the safe distance between your front bumper and the car in front, regardless if it was a rude interloper.
High fuel prices are here to stay and there's no better motive to start driving more economically so that we all can get more kilometers out of every peso of fuel spent. But everyone has to do it. It just takes one point and squirt lane grabber of a driver to disrupt the smooth flow of traffic. It takes just one bus to block half of EDSA's width and bring traffic to a standstill every time it stops for a passenger, after every 1.5kms. High fuel prices are a carrot-stick that punishes bad driving and rewards good driving.
Internationally, high prices prod technology to extract oil from shale, explore oil and gas fields beneath the underwater salt bed of Brazil. Make alternative energy like wind farms, solar panels, wave capture and even nuclear power economically feasible. It would take time and money but now industry, government and research are finally pursuing these paths. To be clear, there is no shortage of fuel but fear of the future is what keeps prices high. Yet we have it in our hands and feet to stretch every peso we spend on fuel. It begins with changing the way we drive.