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Rising gas prices leave drivers stranded with wallets on “empty”




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Sonny Alaniz was on his way home after midnight when his ATV spun to a stop on a rural Texas road, the gas tank undeniably drained.

The nursing student and his seven passengers, who had been out celebrating their 22nd birthday that last Saturday in May, had little choice but to jump out and push. They hit 30 miles before anyone came with fuel, only to discover that the quad bike still would not start and had to be towed. “Next time, I’ll just stay home,” he joked.

It is a known predicament, especially since the incessant rise in prices has motorists tests the limits of their fuel meters: AAA delivered 50,787 calls without gas in April, 32 percent jump from the same month last year. More than 200,000 drivers have been stranded in the same way this year, the car club said. And gas prices have risen sharply since April, making the economic pain even more acute.

National video reporter Hannah Jewell explains why gas prices are rising and how you can find cheaper gas. (Video: Casey Silvestri / The Washington Post)

Fuel prices began their latest rise after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, disrupting energy markets. The US average for a gallon of gas has swelled 62 percent, to $ 4.96, since last year, AAA data show. Motorists in 16 states pay an average of at least $ 5 per gallon, while California has broken $ 6. Filling up a tank with gas, depending on the vehicle, can cost more than $ 100, which equates to 14 hours of taxable income for some low-wage workers.

The rising costs, combined with the rising costs of food, housing and other necessities, are causing consumers to play inflationary nonsense and make tougher choices about how much they can spend and when. Some drivers may make a partial filling if they are pressured for cash at the end of a pay cycle, says Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.

“If you only have five or ten dollars left before the next paycheck, that’s what you go for,” De Haan said. “This tells us that people are really hurt by high gas prices.”

A poll by the Washington Post-Schar School shows it: 44 percent of drivers who were accidentally contacted between April 21 and May 12 said they had only partially filled the car’s gas tank, a figure that rises to 61 percent for drivers with incomes below 50 000 dollars.

And more than 6 in 10 drivers have made the decision to drive less – for example, taking fewer trips to the grocery store – while more than 3 in 10 said they drive at reduced speeds, which can improve petrol driving.

Gasoline demand, measured as a four-week moving average, fell to 8.8 million barrels per day for the week ending May 20, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. If you exclude 2020, it is the lowest level for that time of year since 2013.

Alina Hille, 35, is used to cutting it tightly between refills, but had never actually run out until a recent Monday afternoon, on the sidelines of a St. Louis street with her son of 4 and daughter of 7 in tow. The three trudged to the nearest petrol station, where the lending gas can was outside another customer’s. So Hille, who works as a therapist for a non-profit organization, bought a one-liter can for $ 1.50, refilled it and managed to get home in time to jump on a Zoom call.

She has found ways to save – she works more often from home and is more likely to accompany her children to school – but the financial challenge is deep: As of Wednesday, a full tank of petrol would cost her $ 67-9 more than a month ago .

“I find myself not doing things I used to do with the kids because of the gas prices,” Hille said. “We used to drive when they are restless or trying to drive to playgrounds, or destinations they have not been to before.”

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

Even when gas prices rattle the economy, Americans can not stay out of the way

Back in South Texas, Alaniz said fuel prices have forced changes in his commuter and college plans. He used to drive the approximately 60-mile drive from the family ranch near Alice to Corpus Christi, where he goes to college, in his Chevy Silverado 2500, a large pickup that he estimates squeaks out 14 mpg on the highway

Even with a part-time job, the costs have become unbearable. “You’re talking about $ 60 giving me half a tank,” he said.

So he swaps Chevy for a smaller truck that gets better mileage. He is also switching to online courses for the coming semester.

Such lifestyle changes in the wholesale trade illustrate a tipping point: Studies have shown that consumers do not adjust fuel consumption much in response to short-term price changes, at least not compared to other daily purchases. Rather, it usually requires sustained increases to influence behavior, said Roger Ware, an economist at Queen’s University in Ontario.

“People want to maintain their driving habits in the short term because they do not see an alternative to achieving their goals, whether it is for 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 commuters will switch to public transport or carpooling. Consumers will also be more likely to reevaluate their vehicles and trade them in for more fuel-efficient alternatives. And some people will move closer to work to make commuting easier, or do more of their work remotely.

Price increases, combined with more Americans resuming their pre-pandemic driving habits, may contribute to the increase in talks without gas, according to AAA repair systems leader David Bennett.

Only about 2 percent of AAA’s total roadside assistance calls each month are fuel-related, a proportion that roughly corresponds 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 couple of years,” Bennett said. “They are looking for opportunities to go and explore.”

For Danielle Socha, who supplies food for three apps in the San Diego area, a gas tank runs around $ 83. She has run out so many times that it has become a running joke with friends and family.

“My gas meter is broken,” she said. “I can not read on my car, and this continues to happen.”

She has an empty container in her car so she can go to a gas station if needed. Socha says that she sometimes gets dirty looks from passers-by, but she has also benefited from kindness. In the latest incident, a young man helped push the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta out of the way when he saw her waving a white rain jacket in the air.

The price increases have also given rise to bizarre cases of fuel theft. A married couple in San Diego called police after they found a hole drilled in the bottom of a car, which emits a steady stream of gas, according to a March 21 report from CBS8. Similar incidents have been reported in Memphis, Las Vegas and other cities.

Three Florida men were arrested and charged with stealing thousands of gallons of diesel directly from gas stations, transporting it in 300-liter “gas bladders” and reselling it, according to Newsweek.



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