Confronting the Pump

On Thursday, the Vineyard Transit Authority will mark nationwide Dump the Pump Day — an annual occasion that calls on people to use public transportation to save money, conserve gasoline and reduce greenhouse gases — by cutting its already bargain fares in half and holding a party at the youth hostel in West Tisbury.

At a time when the price of oil and the tethered price of gasoline has skyrocketed in less than a year, the idea of avoiding the use of the gasoline pump has moved from an idealistic notion to a practical, increasingly necessary strategy.

One of the surest ways to reach Americans is through their wallets. And the baleful, ever-worsening price of gasoline — today on the Vineyard pushing close to five dollars per gallon for regular octane, and more than five dollars per gallon for premium — is frankly more persuasive than hours of documentaries about air pollution or global warming.

But while the glib recommendation to dump the pump sounds and feels good, the sad reality is that the internal combustion engine has spread deeply within American and Vineyard life, like an addiction so common as to be nearly universal. The flexibility and freedom inherent in vehicles powered by the engine is second nature to Islanders and mainlanders alike.

Further, the United States is a big country, and the Vineyard is a relatively big Island. For more than five decades, for better or worse, the automobile has served as a cornerstone for land development that some see as sprawl, but others prize for what it has meant for their own individual privacy.

In short, permanently dumping the pump in today’s world will be difficult, if not impossible, for many Islanders.

What is quite possible, however, is that most American of solutions: a compromise. Rather than dump the pump, use it less. Ride the Vineyard Transit Authority two or three days a week. Get out the bicycle and use it on sunny days. Walk places. Share rides in cars.

More drastic, less flexible scenarios may lie ahead. But for now, alternatives are readily available, such as the excellent, affordable bus service offered by the Vineyard Transit Authority. Your wallet will thank you.