Political and Environmental Impact of Just Getting Around

I’ve been thinking about some stuff on the way to Frankfurt. I’m listening to “When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden,” an audio book by comedian Bill Maher. I’ll wager the guy makes some serious sense to you, no matter on which side of the aisle you feel more at home in Congress. Check it out.

Here are some points he makes on the first disc that hit home with me this morning:

  • Americans since WWII treat gasoline as if it were a life-sustaining element like air or water.
  • We throw a tantrum whenever even a small price increase happens on things for whch we already have a pretty good price (compared to the rest of the world) — he names postage as an example alongside the price of a gallon of gasoline.
  • Our standards are illogical. We get upset when we have to pay $2 a gallon to go 10 miles in “the Couchmobile” but tip the valet dude $5 for him to go 10 feet.
  • Conservation is the only short-term option, but it would help a lot. Overall fuel efficiency improvements to the tune of less than 3 mpg would completely eliminate our dependency on oil from the Persian Gulf.
  • What’s up with our car culture? He attributes this to Americans, but from my perspective it’s alive and well here in Germany as well. Why must every new car model be billed “a totally new driving experience?”

    “A totally new driving experience would be a car with wings. Otherwise everything is still basically a Chevy.”

    “Wouldn’t it be great to go to a PTA meeting in a TANK?”

  • Whose agenda are we really serving?

    “Being slaves to cheap oil has corrupted our politics, threatened our environment and funded our enemies and had us doing the dirty work for a lot of royalist dirtbags in the Middle East for a long time.”

This morning before getting on the train, I realized I’ve been traveling so much lately, a frequent-rider card for me would make sense for the company as well. Below are all the trips I have or will have taken by car or train that would have been conceivable by train and taxi in basically the last four months:

October 31: Frankfurt
November 2: Frankfurt
November 8: Frankfurt
November 9: Frankfurt
November 16: Frankfurt (except that I was out that week due to my gall bladder removal)
November 27: Würzburg (overnight stay)
November 28: Frankfurt
[Not sure what travel would have been required of me if I’d not been on vacation until December 18th]
December 19: Nuremberg
January 11: Ingolstadt
January 22: Nuremberg (workshop, overnight stay)
January 23: Nuremberg
January 25: Ingolstadt
February 1: Frankfurt
February 11: Nuremberg (except it got cancelled because someone got sick)
February 15: Frankfurt
February 25: Frankfurt

To be sure, I’ve got a lot of inter-regional travel going on here. I’ve had to miss at least one meeting in Hanover, too (I think I was on vacation or perhaps out during my surgery).

There’s a lot happening via various teleconferencing solutions. Those can be tricky when you’re network-hopping — which I will be doing a lot while network infrastructure issues as a result of the sale of my company from one corporate parent to another are sorted out. And where possible members on our team carpool on business trips. But even carpooling still means someone has to drive, and after a couple of road trips to and from Frankfurt up and down the A3 on Friday afternoons, you learn quickly: driving under those conditions is neither pleasant nor productive. At the smallest level, I’m the only person on my little team in Germany, and I’m the only person related to Purchasing Systems in Regensburg, so I am often traveling by myself. And let’s not forget: the train doesn’t drop you off at the office doorstep. You still have to get from a Hauptbahnhof to the office park or local HQ from the train station somehow. That usually means taking a taxi (not exactly cheap) in addition to the cost of the train ticket (even if it’s reduced by the frequent-rider card). From what I’ve heard, public transportation (bus, subway, or tram) to/from the train station at any of these office I’ll be visiting regularly is really only viable in Regensburg.

So, I’ve decided to ask my company to spring for a BahnCard 50 or at least 25 for me. I don’t really expect the number of road trips to be sustained over the next phase of our integration into the new corporate structure, but despite carpooling and virtual conferencing, I see more travel ahead for me. Our team assistant says 6 trips to Frankfurt and back per year are required before a BahnCard 50 pays for itself. I really should have asked for one of those right up front. But I don’t expect to stop traveling to these other locations altogether over the next year. And over the past 4 years here in Regensburg, along with repeated trips back to North America just to remind me, I’ve learned something important:

View from up in the village of Saint MayI like driving for pleasure on little country roads through places like Provence or Oberammergau or Brenner, but not really very much anywhere else. Anywhere else, it’s loud, a little scary, and generally stressier than I’d like to be.

rainstorm on the waySo here’s to improved emphasis on mass-transit. I can’t honestly say I moved to Germany to get away from driving my truck (and I do miss my Dad’s truck), but I can definitely say it’s one of the factors keeping me here.