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Will $4 a gallon be the consumer ‘tipping point?’

As gas prices head toward $4 a gallon and beyond - perhaps as soon as this summer - speculation is growing that $4 may be the “tipping point” for changing consumer’s habits: When increased price forces consumers to switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles, drive less, start to use mass transit, etc.

You don’t have to be Nostradamus to foresee this happening.

Unfortunately, San Diego is ill-prepared to supply a greater demand for mass transit. Travel to almost any other big city in the country - New York, Washington, D.C. Boston or Chicago - and you’ll see cost-effective, efficient mass transit used by a broad cross-section of the population - businesspeople in suits, the working class, the elderly, etc.

By contrast, if you take the bus or trolley in San Diego, you’ll find the ridership almost exclusively consists of two groups: low-income people and students who can’t afford their own transportation.

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We must anticipate - and adequately prepare for - mushrooming demand for mass transit in the near future as high energy costs put an end to our love affair with the solo-occupant vehicle.

La Jolla suffers from a notable lack of mass transit. The number 30 bus is just not enough. In order to encourage people to come to work without their cars, there have to be an array of reliable options.

Clearly the city has a limited financial capacity to ramp up such services, but there are examples of downtown areas around the nation that have found ways to run shuttle bus services and the like.

Perhaps there are La Jolla resources that could be brought to bear to try such smaller-scale transit options.

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Change is not only coming - it’s here. The handwriting is on the wall.

Helping people to access La Jolla without their cars could help everything from parking to polution. And as gas prices rise, it may be the only way to get many of them here at all.