While I have no problem with Robert J. Samuelson's proposal for a substantial tax to increase the cost of gasoline and thus promote conservation, I think it would have a disastrous effect on our economy if another form of reasonably priced transportation were not established ["Cheap Gas Is a Bad Habit," op-ed, Sept. 14].

In the United States we have done away with other more fuel-efficient forms of transportation in favor of the highway. Eighty years ago almost every town was connected by train, and nearly all cities had a rail form of commuter and local transportation. Now Amtrak is a shadow of what it once was, and local commuter rail serves only a favored few who live and work near a stop.

We need a national rail and commuter system to reduce the need for auto and truck travel.

JAMES R. CAMPBELL

Arlington

*

Robert J. Samuelson is right that we are vulnerable to disruption of oil supplies whether by natural disaster or a political cutoff. But he is missing the far greater threat -- depletion.

Embargoes and disasters are possibilities, but depletion is a certainty. Many oil experts believe that we are at or near the peak of world oil production. American production peaked in 1970. North Sea oil production peaked in 1998 and is falling fast. Some research suggests that even Saudi Arabia may be close to its peak.

The increased oil taxes and mileage standards that Mr. Samuelson suggests are desperately needed but ultimately won't be nearly enough. If we don't raise our oil taxes, depletion will raise the price for us, and we will send our wealth to the oil-exporting nations. Depletion isn't a threat; it's a promise, and we don't have long to prepare.

CARL HENN

Rockville

*

A good way to get people to move away from today's gas guzzlers would be to have the government impose a gas tax of 25 to 50 cents a gallon and use the money to fully subsidize hybrid technology. The tax would cover the price difference between hybrids and conventional vehicles. People would naturally choose the more economical hybrids. And if a big move to hybrids drove down the cost of hybrid technology, then the tax could be reduced.

In a short period, almost all new cars would be hybrids -- something a traditional gas tax alone would not achieve.

CURT BOLTON

Germantown

*

Robert J. Samuelson is wrong. The last thing this country needs is higher gas prices. We need greater supply from right here in America.

There are huge supplies of oil in Alaska, off the California coast, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the shale deposits of the West. But we must protect the snail darter or other nonentities at consumers' expense.

Meeting the demand from U.S. supplies is the right answer.

J.H. COHEN

New York