The spiraling cost of oil continues to trickle down to all sorts of unexpected places. This week a story appears on page 1 about how small gas stations are trying to figure out what to do with old mechanical pumps that weren’t built to go above $3.99 a gallon.

Many of the stations that make just a small profit on gasoline are wondering whether retrofitting the pumps with new computers is worth the investment. Others have simply gotten a little creative, setting the price at the pump at half the actual cost and doubling it at the register, while they wait for the retrofits, which are on back order. The Department of Agriculture has been cautioning gas stations about the practice, however, after receiving reports that some consumers felt misled by the price at the pump.

More than just a story about a dilemma some small business owners are facing, this story should be a reminder that gas prices have gone higher than most people ever anticipated, much less prepared for. Rather than retrofitting our lives, perhaps it’s time we started to rethink the way we’re living them.

Public transportation, for example, now exists in southern Maine largely as a service for those who have no other means of transportation. It’s not utilized widely by those who own cars, presumably because it’s less convenient. There are few incentives to ride the bus. Commuters here don’t have to face the same traffic and parking headaches those living in larger cities do. Driving also allows commuters to go to and from work without being beholden to the bus schedule.

A new program might help change some of those habits. Sponsored by the Department of Transportation and Go Maine, the program is offering free bus rides on Fridays, beginning July 11 and going until the end of August. While this program isn’t likely to change the habits of the majority of the public, it offers anyone who’s interested in trying out the local bus services an opportunity to do so free of charge.

Public transportation hasn’t been able to expand in this state because there isn’t enough demand to make the necessary investments cost effective. However, if demand were to go up precipitously, it might change the equation. It’s possible that gas prices have gone up enough to cause a little grumbling at the pump, but not enough to cause people to make significant changes in their lives.

However, if the story about mechanical gas pumps tells us anything, it’s that if that time isn’t now, it’s coming, and we should start preparing for it now.

Otherwise, like many of these small gas station owners, we might be left waiting for our retrofit on back order.

Brendan Moran, editor

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