High Oil Prices Don't Slow Bush Travel

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Getting President Bush from here to there consumes an enormous amount of fuel, whether he's aboard Air Force One (search), riding in a helicopter or on the ground in a heavily armored limousine. The bill gets steeper every day as the White House is rocked by the same energy prices as regular drivers.

Taxpayers still foot the bill.

Almost every vehicle Bush uses is custom-made to add security and communications capabilities, and the heavier weight of these guzzlers further drives up gas and jet fuel costs.

The White House declines to discuss travel costs related to the presidential entourage, and did not respond to a request for the overall effect of higher fuel prices on its budget.

It is not Bush's choice to be ferried around in a less than fuel-efficient manner. Those arrangements are dictated by tradition and the Secret Service, whose mission is to protect him.

But Bush is one of the nation's most-traveled presidents.

He has visited 46 countries, some of them several times, during his presidency. He has been to all states except Vermont and Rhode Island.

So far this year, he has made 73 domestic and foreign trips, including crisscrossing the country on a 60-day, 60-city tour to promote his Social Security plan. He was on the road Wednesday, speaking to a military audience in Idaho, before returning to his Texas ranch to resume his summer vacation.

About the only vehicle Bush has much say in is the 2001 white Ford F250 pickup he keeps on his ranch. At the nationwide gasoline average of $2.61 a gallon, it would cost at least $75 to fill the Ford's tank. The 1999 four-wheel-drive model gets 13 miles per gallon in the city, 17 on the highway, according to an Energy Department Web site.

But much as he seems to relish any chance to get behind the wheel, Bush actually drives the pickup very little, confined as he is to only occasional visits to his ranch and to remaining on its 1,600 acres when he's driving himself.

Elsewhere, whether in Washington, Des Moines or Tbilisi, Bush is driven in a large motorcade. The typical presidential caravan has well over a dozen vehicles, including Bush's limousine and an identical limo put in as a decoy.

The motorcade generally doesn't cruise placidly at fuel-efficient speeds, but rather hurries along its route as fast as possible. It also often idles outside while Bush is at an event, burning up fuel but ready to depart at a moment's notice.

The president's limos alone consume lots of gas.

Starting with his inaugural in January, Bush began tooling around in new 2006 Cadillac DTS limos.

The full-sized luxury sedan version, available to the general public, has an 18-gallon tank that would cost about $47 to fill at that $2.61-a-gallon rate. (White House vehicles are fueled at a special, dedicated facility and the price paid per gallon there is not released.) Cadillac spokesman Kevin Smith said the Cadillac DTS sedan gets 18 mpg in the city, 27 on the highway.

The vehicle Bush uses is a much different animal -- with different gas mileage. An outside company customizes the DTS for presidential use by "stretching" it to limo length, adding bulletproof glass, heavy armor and other bells and whistles -- all making it significantly heavier and less fuel-efficient, Smith said.

The same thing for the Chevrolet Suburbans that are sometimes used as limo substitutes. The mass-marketed 2005 K1500 Suburban would cost nearly $81 to fill up with its large 31-gallon tank. It gets 15 mpg in the city, 19 on the highway, according to the Energy Department. But it's not clear exactly which trim model of Suburban Bush uses, and his are custom-fitted with extra gear that would reduce the gas mileage.

In the air, Bush most often flies on a Boeing 747-200B laden with, among other things, an anti-missile system. Like gas for cars, fuel costs for the largest plane in the Air Force One fleet have gone up dramatically -- from $3,974 an hour in fiscal 2004 to $6,029 per hour now, according to the Air Force.

John Armbrust, publisher of Jet Fuel Report, said Air Force One is no different from its commercial counterparts in that respect.

"It's an expensive proposition to fly these planes, whether its Air Force One or a regular 747," he said.

Reducing his appearances outside the White House and making other gestures toward fuel conservation could help cut down on costs.

But some suggest that could do more harm for national morale and Bush's image than good for the financial bottom line.

Remember Jimmy Carter (search) donning a sweater and asking Americans facing an energy crisis to turn down their thermostats? Or giving the speech about the nation's "crisis of confidence" that led to his permanent association with "malaise?" Carter's critics turned both utterances into emblems that contributed to his political undoing.