Coping with the pain at the pump

April 21, 2008 3:53:22 PM PDT
With all this pain at the pump, people are coping in different ways.Rising gasoline prices tightened the squeeze on drivers Monday, jumping for the first time to an average $3.50 a gallon at filling stations across the country with no sign of relief.

Crude oil set a record for the sixth day in a row - this time closing above $117 a barrel - after an attack on a Japanese oil tanker in the Middle East rattled investors.

According to the AAA Mid-Atlantic, the cost of a gallon of gasoline, literally, went up overnight 6 cents in Pennsylvania, nine cents in Delaware, and 12 cents in New Jersey.

Drivers in New Jersey are paying the least, while drivers in California pay the most, $3.86 a gallon for regular unleaded.

Compared to a year ago, a gallon of gas has gone up more than 60 cents.

That means a 15 gallon fill-up that cost about $43 this time last year now costs drivers $52.

Diesel prices at the pump also struck a record high of $4.20 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. That's sure to add to truckers' costs and drive up the price of food, clothing and other goods shipped by truck.

"You and I are going to pay more," said Bob Costello, chief economist of American Trucking Associations. "Exactly how much ... I can't tell you, but it's got to show up."

Commuters say high gas prices are pounding their finances, after budgeting for gas to commute to work they say less and less is left over for anything from going to the movies to a weekend drive to a flea market.

Some are opting for alternatives such as public transportation. SEPTA reports it has picked up 15,000 riders a day during the last year.

Others are opting for man power in the form of bicycles. Bike shops have seen a spike in people looking for commuter friendly bikes.

So where will gas prices top off?

"It's uncharted territory," said Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service, Wall, N.J. "I don't think we're done, but I have to believe we're in the eighth or ninth inning" of price increases.

Gasoline and diesel prices are expected to keep climbing as they trace the path of crude. Oil prices are charging ahead along with a host of commodities that are enticing speculators seeking hedges against a weakening dollar.

With crude oil prices at record levels, there has been speculation that a gallon of gas could hit four dollars by the summer driving season.

Is that possible?

AAA Mid-Atlantic says it's a distinct possibility.

The higher prices are already prompting some drivers to cut back. In New York, Elvis Ragbir and Anthony Winckler said they are driving less and taking the subway more.

"I'm spending my gas money on MetroCards," Winckler said in the waiting room of a vehicle inspection station in Manhattan. Ragbir, a delivery truck driver, said he is looking to trade in his Lexus LS 400 for a smaller car.

In downtown Chicago, Sharon Cooper spent $52 to fill up three-quarters of the tank in her Toyota Highlander SUV. She said she tries not to let the prices get to her, although she too is changing her habits and buying a bike to commute to work.

Energy Department data show Americans used about 1 percent less gas in the four weeks ended April 11 than they did a year earlier.

That change, while not drastic, is significant, Mariano Gurfinkel, project manager at the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas at Austin, who expects per-capita demand to drop further this summer unless gas prices fall.

Americans will continue to drive, but some may change their summer vacation destinations as gasoline costs continue to make a bigger dent in their pocketbooks, Gurfinkel said.

Tell Action News how you are coping with the gas prices or just let us know how you feel about the situation. Click the InterAction link on the right to tell us your tips or your gripes.

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Associated Press Writers Dave Carpenter in Chicago, Dan Caterinicchia in Washington, Pablo Gorondi in Budapest and Thomas Hogue in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.

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