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Rising Fuel Prices Cause Global Change in Transportation

People around the world are feeling the effects of the rising oil prices. More expensive fuel means changes in transportation habits, as well as hard times in places where the cost of basic goods is also rising. It also means an uncertain future for transportation-related industries. In this report, VOA's Kent Klein examines how the higher cost of transportation is affecting the way we live and work, and our quality of life. (Part 1 of 5)

Families and workers in the West African country of Senegal are struggling to find ways to make ends meet. It is a familiar and painful situation felt throughout the world. Transportation and food costs are rising. Salaries are not.

People in Senegal use buses to go to work, school, market, mosque or family gatherings. But the price of a trip has recently gone from 25 to 40 cents. That is a huge increase for people with salaries of about one dollar a day.

Mohammed Pape takes four bus trips a day, between different jobs and his home in a poor suburb. He says he has no choice but to pay for the costly bus trips. He says salaries are not moving at all.

Worldwide, the rising cost of fuel is forcing many people to find new ways to get from one place to another. In developing nations, some people are giving up public transportation and walking to work. In richer, industrial countries, expensive gasoline has led many people to leave their cars behind and take mass transit. Public transport ridership in America's big cities is up five to 15 percent over last year.

Higher fuel prices are driving up the costs of many other goods and services, including food. Soaring food prices have led to riots in 30 countries in recent months, leading to concerns about political stability.

Mauricio Lopez drives a taxi in Miami, Florida. He came to the United States from Colombia. He says the price of fuel is threatening his livelihood. "This year we have really been pinched by gasoline prices because basically all of our income goes to buy gas," he said. "We recently raised our fares to help offset fuel costs, but that has just driven away some customers."

Spiraling oil prices are also having a profound effect on airlines, especially in the United States. American Airlines and Delta Airlines have each lost more than $1 billion so far this year. Industry spokesman Jim May expects more trouble. "We are deeply, deeply concerned about the future of this industry, given the impact that high oil prices are having on every walk of life," says May.

Airline expert Rick Seaney says fare increases will hurt business. "At some point, with the continued price increases, the prices will be going up to the point where people will just not fly any more," said Seaney.

Industry analyst David Field says some airlines may not survive. "We are going to see, probably, another airline bankruptcy or two," he predicted.

Expensive fuel also means big changes for automobile makers. America's two largest car companies, General Motors and Ford, have posted huge losses from slumping U.S. sales.

GM chairman Rick Wagoner says his company, like Ford, will close some factories where its least fuel-efficient vehicles are made. "We cannot sit back and wait for U.S. conditions to improve," said Wagoner. "We need to be proactive and even take some very tough actions to ensure our survival and success."

Terry Schachstschneider will lose his job when GM closes the truck plant where he works.
"Well, they have three plants making these big things, the gas mileage is terrible on them," said Schachstschneider. "So you know, you probably only need one plant."

The auto industry is shifting its focus to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, and developing vehicles that run on other sources of energy, like hydrogen, electricity and biofuels.

Meanwhile, some people are looking for alternatives to motorized transport. In Los Angeles, Ramona Marks avoids the crowded freeways and rides her bicycle to work. "I'm hopeful for the city and for the people who live here," she said. "Some people are making a change for the better."

In Washington, Chuck Wilsker leads an organization of people who work at home, via the telephone and computer. "I have never had more calls, I have never seen more buzz, there has not been more press than once gasoline hit [abut one dollar a liter]," he said.

It is clear that such a wide-ranging problem will require a broad variety of solutions. Read more in the rest of our 5-part series.