Rising gas prices leave drivers stranded with ’empty’ wallets

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Sonny Alaniz was driving home after midnight when his ATV stopped on a rural Texas road, the gas tank undeniably drained.

The nursing student and his seven passengers, who were celebrating his 22nd birthday that on the last Saturday of May, he had little choice but to jump out and push. They walked three miles before someone arrived with fuel, only to find the ATV still hadn’t started and had to be towed. “Next time, I’ll stay at home,” he joked.

It’s a familiar situation, especially as the relentless rise in prices has made drivers testing the limits of your fuel gauges: AAA answered 50,787 calls without gas on April 32 percent jump from the same month last year. More than 200,000 drivers were similarly arrested this year, motorsport said. And gas prices have skyrocketed since April, making the financial pain even more acute.

Fuel prices began their most recent rise after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, disrupting energy markets. The US average for a gallon of gasoline has increased 62% to $4.96 since last year, AAA data show. Drivers in 16 states are paying at least $5 a gallon on average, while California has exceeded $6. Filling a tank of gas, depending on the vehicle, can cost upwards of $100, which is equivalent to 14 hours of income. after tax for certain low-income workers.

Rising spending, combined with rising costs for food, housing and other essentials, leaves consumers playing an inflationary mole, making tougher choices about how much and when they can spend. Some drivers may do a partial fill if they’re pressed for cash at the end of a pay cycle, says Patrick De Haan, head of oil analysis at GasBuddy.

“If you only have five or ten dollars before your next paycheck, that’s what you’re doing,” De Haan said. “It tells us that people are really suffering from high gas prices.”

A Washington Post-Schar School survey confirms this: 44% of drivers contacted at random between April 21 and May 12 said they only partially filled their car, a figure that rises to 61% for drivers with incomes below $US. 50,000.

And more than 6 in 10 drivers have made the decision to drive less – making fewer trips to the supermarket, for example – while more than 3 in 10 said they are driving at reduced speeds, which can improve fuel consumption.

Gasoline demand, measured as a four-week moving average, dropped to 8.8 million barrels a day in the week ended May 20, according to the US Energy Information Administration. If you exclude 2020 this is the lowest level for that time of year since 2013.

Alina Hille, 35, is used to cutting well between fillers, but it wasn’t finished until a recent Monday afternoon, tucked away on a street in St. Louis with his son, 4, and daughter, 7, in tow. The three trudged to the nearest gas station, where the borrowed gas can was held by another customer. So Hille, who works as a therapist for a nonprofit, bought a one-gallon can for $1.50, filled it, and managed to get home in time to join a Zoom call.

She’s found ways to save money — she works from home more often and is more likely to drive her kids to school — but the financial challenge runs deep: On Wednesday, a full tank of gas would cost $67 to $9 more than a month ago.

“I don’t do the things I used to do with the kids because of the gas prices,” Hille said. “We used to go by car when they were restless or trying to drive to playgrounds or destinations they had never been to before.”

Now, she says, “I’d rather buy groceries.”

Even as gas prices take a toll on the economy, Americans can’t stay off the road

Back in South Texas, Alaniz said fuel prices had forced changes to his commute and college plans. He used to make the roughly 100-kilometer drive from his family’s ranch near Alice to Corpus Christi, where he attends college, in his Chevy Silverado 2500, a large pickup that he estimates does 14 mpg on the road.

Even with a part-time job, the demands became unbearable. “You’re saying $60 gives me half a tank,” he said.

So he’s trading in his Chevy for a smaller truck that does better mileage. He is also switching to online classes for the next semester.

These wholesale lifestyle changes illustrate a tipping point: Studies have shown that consumers don’t adjust their fuel spending much in response to short-term price changes, at least not compared to other everyday purchases. Instead, sustained increases are often needed to affect behavior, said Roger Ware, an economist at Queen’s University in Ontario.

“People will keep their driving habits in the short term because they don’t see an alternative to fulfilling their goals, whether it’s commuting or recreational driving. Over a period of months or years, however, many things will change if prices remain high,” Ware said.

If prices remain high, he said, more passengers will switch to public transport or carpooling. Consumers will also be more likely to rethink their vehicles and switch to more economical options. And some people will approach work to alleviate commuting or do more of their work remotely.

Price increases, along with more Americans reverting to their pre-pandemic driving habits, could be contributing to the rise in fuel-free calls, according to AAA Repair Systems Manager David Bennett.

Only about 2% of the AAA’s total roadside assistance calls each month are fuel related, a proportion roughly equivalent to before the pandemic. In March 2019, when fuel was cheap and more vehicles were on the road, there were 53,800 fuel-related assistance calls.

“People have been stuck at home for the last two years,” Bennett said. “They are looking for opportunities to explore.”

For Danielle Socha, who delivers food to three apps in the San Diego area, a bottle of gas costs about $83. She’s run away so many times it’s become a joke to her friends and family.

“My gas gauge is broken,” she said. “I can’t read my car and it keeps happening.”

She keeps an empty container in her car so she can walk to a gas station if necessary. Socha says she occasionally gets disapproving looks from passersby, but she also benefits from acts of kindness. In the most recent incident, a young man helped push her 2013 Volkswagen Jetta off the road when he saw her waving a white raincoat in the air.

Price increases have also given rise to bizarre cases of fuel theft. A San Diego couple called police after finding a hole in the bottom of a car, emitting a steady stream of gas, according to a March 21 report from CBS8. Similar incidents were reported in Memphis, Las Vegas and other cities.

Three Florida men have been arrested and face racketeering charges on charges of stealing thousands of gallons of diesel directly from gas stations, transporting it in 300-gallon “gas bladders” and reselling it, according to Newsweek.

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