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Spiraling Gas Prices Have People Talking Transit

Faced with ever-rising gasoline prices, more and more Americans are cutting back on driving. We're taking shorter vacations and turning to buses, subways, light-rail trains, motorcycles – even bicycles – to get around town.

We are, that is, if we live in a city like San Francisco, with its famous cable-car system and trolleys, plus lots of bike paths and pedestrian walkways. Or New York, whose venerable subways serve every part of town.

No wonder those cities finished first and second in a survey by the economic-development group Common Current, which ranked 50 U.S. cities on their ability to cope with the oil-price crisis.

But those who live in Oklahoma City, Okla., which finished dead last, or nearby Tulsa, Okla., which was 49th, are not so lucky.

In oil-rich Oklahoma and neighboring Texas, gasoline was plentiful and cheap, and cities spread so far across the prairie that people scoffed at the notion of building tracks for slow-moving streetcars. Folks in that free-wheeling culture wanted to go where and when they wanted in their powerful automobiles. They didn't want to ride smelly buses, either.

But you should hear these folks now. Tulsa's transit manager told, "You've got people coming out of the woodwork, screaming for more bus service." Trouble is, the Tulsas and Oklahoma Cities don't have the buses or express highway lanes on which to run them. And most big American cities don't have subways.

Even in the auto-loving patch of America, carpooling – in which people take turns driving to work – is catching on. Workers are setting up home offices if their bosses allow it. Sales of gas-gorging pickup trucks are down. And contrary to their conservative nature, some Oklahomans and Texans are even muttering that it may take the dreaded T word to bring mass transit to the land where the car is king: T for taxes.