High Gas Prices Felt by Drivers Nationwide

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New York cabdrivers say their take-home pay is not what it used to be. Trucking companies are making their drivers slow down when they are hauling their loads to conserve fuel. And even filling station owners continually plead that the ever-soaring gasoline prices aren't their fault.

Drivers nationwide are feeling the reality of high fuel prices. The price of a gallon of gas is averaging $3.50 a gallon nationwide, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. This means that more and more Americans are thinking about the necessity of every drive they take.

"To get to the doctors and all that, it's an awful lot of money," said Carol Licata, a 75-year-old retiree from Arnold, Pa., who said a larger portion of her fixed income is now going toward gas. "I don't drive that often, but have to take necessary trips. and takes a big chunk out of our budget."

Other Modes of Travel

Some people are also considering alternatives simply to save money.

In Los Angeles, for example, fiction writer Brian Edwards sold his truck and now relies on his skateboard or the bus to get around. Sharon Cooper of Chicago, meanwhile, said she is planning to buy a bicycle to use on her 2.5 mile commute to her place of employment.

Legal aide Zebib Yemane says she recently spent $5.00 on gas for her Chevy compact at a gas station in downtown Los Angeles, just so she could drive to a cheaper gas station in another part of town.

"When going downhill, I used to step on the gas. Now I don't," said Yemane, who said she normally spends $80 a week on fuel. She now asks people for rides and takes the bus to save money.

"Bottom line, we can't afford it no more, man. It's too much," Bak Zoumane said as he filled up his yellow cab at a BP station in midtown New York. The West African immigrant said his next car will likely be a hybrid so he won't have to pay so much at the pump.

Gas prices usually rise during the spring months for two reasons. Stations switch over to pricier summer-grade fuel and demand picks up as more travelers take to the road.

Gasoline Prices 'Spring' Higher

Experts say this year prices are rising even faster than normal, because of the massive jump in benchmark crude prices. The price of crude hit a new record of $117.76 a barrel on Monday. It was the sixth day in a row in which gas prices set new records.

The soaring prices are putting added strain on refiners and filling-station operators, who are struggling to pass on the higher costs to consumers. So even as drivers pay more, it's the gasoline retailers who are getting squeezed.

"The farther you get from the wellhead, the greater the misery," said Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service in Wall, N.J. "There's a lot of stations across the country that are literally on the brink of bankruptcy."

Samer Katib, the manager of a Marathon station in Chicago, said business has fallen at least 30 percent this year because customers are cutting back on driving and only using their cars when absolutely necessary.

"It's just go to your work and go home," he said of people's driving habits these days, adding that customers no longer stop in for profit-fattening drinks like they used to. "They need all their money for gas," he said.

"I wish I could make gas prices cheaper," Katib added. "But if we do that, we cannot survive."

Other businesses are feeling the effects of rising gas prices as well.

Highest Fuel Prices in the Nation

Mitch Goldstone, who owns a photo-scanning shop in Irvine, Calif., said he began giving out gas cards Monday to encourage people to shop after noticing a sharp decline in customer traffic - something he attributed to soaring gas prices.

AAA data shows California has higher gas prices than anywhere in the country. A gallon of regular gasoline is now selling for an average of $3.86 a gallon.

"It's a mess here," Goldstone said. "People just are not shopping and everyone's trying to figure out a way to get people back in their cars."

Diesel prices are rising even higher than gasoline. This is putting pressure on trucking and other shipping companies that transport goods around the country.

The American Trucking Associations on Monday said it will host a "fuel strategies workshop" in June to help fleet operators cope with soaring prices.

ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said fuel has now surpassed labor as the trucking industry's biggest cost, prompting some companies to install devices that prevent drivers from speeding. Companies are also shelling out for auxiliary power units and offering bonuses to drivers who cut down on idling and operate their trucks more efficiently.

"Every little bit helps," he said.

Source:  The Associated Press

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