Leader Blues

Friday, June 13, 2008

TOP STORY >>Motorists try to cope with rising prices

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Depending on the gas station one is driving by in the local area, the price for regular unleaded runs just a penny shy of $4 at some stations, while others charge 15 cents short of that mark despite recent price jumps.

At week’s end, the national average of a gallon of unleaded stood at $4.06 per gallon, with California topping out at $4.54.

In Arkansas, the state average Thursday was $3.91 with northwest Arkansas coming in the cheapest at $3.86 and central Arkansas the highest at $3.92, perhaps toward $5.

The fast-rising cost of gasoline is affecting everyone from families to pizza places to lawn companies to taxis.

“We’ve just lost four drivers because they are not making enough money in tips to cover their gas,” said Curtis Gorecke, manager of Papa John’s Pizza in Jacksonville. He said the company pays drivers a per diem to help cover gas. “Every time gas jumps we increase it, “Gorecke said. “Right now it’s 6.4 percent of the commission.”

Gorecke also said more and more residents are calling for delivery. “They don’t want to use up their gas picking up pizza, plus it seems they also have less for tip money because of the gas prices,” he said.

Keefe Lawn Care is also feeling the pinch. Eileen Keefe said the company operates two trucks, but each truck is hauling a trailer loaded with equipment that uses gasoline. “Things are very tight now,” she said. Keefe said in April, the company spent $900 for gasoline. “It’s several hundred dollars more now,” she said, adding that it has doubled from last year. “It’s tough on a small business.

“What makes it tough for the lawn service is that it has contracts with its customers. “We can’t pass on any of the cost until contract renewal time, and even then we don’t want to jump up too high,” she said.

Jacksonville taxi companies are also feeling the pinch as their local rates are restricted by city ordinance.

“I’m standing still until I get calls now,” said Myron Roberts with Discount Taxi. Roberts used to think nothing about driving around town between fares. “It was good advertisement, but I can’t afford it now,” he said. Roberts added that his fuel cost has jumped $20 to $30 a day, working out to a monthly increase of more than $800.

A driver for A Cab Company said the gas prices were definitely hurting the small business. “We will probably have to go to the city council and ask them to allow an increase in local fares,” she said.

The driver said just a few weeks ago it was costing $40 to fill up her cab and now it’s $67, “and I fill it up daily,” she added.

Chris Crain, with Crain Automotive Group, says they are starting to see some small shifts in vehicle buying, but thinks a lot of people are in a “sit and wait mode.”

“Gas prices always seem to spike during the spring months and then settle back down. I think a lot of people are waiting and looking for that downward tick,” Crain said.

But some people are trading in their large SUV’s for smaller vehicles, Crain said.

“Some are keeping their SUV’s,” said Crain, “and buying a smaller second vehicle to use for commuting,” he said.

Crain said a surprising trend is that people are buying pre-owned SUV’s. “The values on those vehicles are down right now, and sometimes you can save enough to offset the rising cost of gasoline.”

Clay Knupp, who works at The Leader in Jacksonville, drives 100 miles a day to work from Des Arc.

He said, “When I bought my truck in 2000, and it cost $25 to fill it up. Now it costs me $100. It’s a lot. It’ll keep getting worse.

“A big part of my paycheck goes for gas just to pay for commuting,” Knupp said. Because he lives in Des Arc, he must drive 30 miles to shop in big stores in Searcy or Cabot.

He spends about $150 a week on fuel. “It sucks,” he said.