Rising gas prices affect commuters

As the price of gasoline continues to rise, Chris Mitchell, a junior majoring in nursing, said he is often forced to leave his Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck in the driveway.

As of Monday, average retail unleaded gasoline prices in Tampa had risen 3.4 cents per gallon since last week, when it averaged $3.047 per gallon, according to tampagasprices.com.

Since last week, the national average has increased 8 cents per gallon to $3.083 per gallon.

When Mitchell decides to drive his truck to school instead of his cost-effective motorcycle, he said his 30-minute commute from West Tampa is hard on his wallet. When he first bought his truck five years ago, he said it cost him about $40 for a full tank of gas. But because he can no longer afford to fill it all the way, Mitchell said he is not sure how much it would cost to do so anymore.

“I usually put about $30 in and I get almost half a tank,” he said.

It may be a while before drivers like Mitchell see any relief. Stephen Reich, program director at USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research, said that while gasoline prices may fluctuate, he anticipates they will continue to increase at least through the summer.

“I just don’t see that general upward trend stopping,” Reich said. “We’ve seen the sixth straight week of roughly a 2 cent increase (nationwide). Depending on what part of the country you’re in, (gasoline is) anywhere from 30 to 35 cents more per gallon this January then it was a year ago.”

According to tampagasprices.com, unleaded gasoline prices in Tampa, as of Monday, were up 34.5 cents per gallon from a year ago. The national average has increased 11.2 cents per gallon during the last month.

Based on what he has read and what the new Energy Information Administration forecasts, Reich said he thinks gasoline costs could be $3.50 nationally by Memorial Day and that the use of public transportation, like the Bull Runner, should increase.

“As gasoline prices inch towards $4 per gallon, and perhaps beyond, we would expect an increase in public transportation ridership,” he said. “This occurred in the run-up of fuel prices in 2008. This phenomenon presents a two-edged sword for transit agencies as they could use the opportunity that new riders presents to enhance peak period service to retain the new commuters and attract even more, but are challenged with their own operating budget dilemmas that spiking fuel prices can bring. Fuel purchases can account for one-third of a public transit agency’ operating budget.”

Reich said the reason for the rise in price lies in both stock market speculation and the increased global demand for petroleum. Investors “betting” on the economy improving are putting their money in oil futures, which help drive the price up, he said.

“There’s only so much petroleum, and the demand for it is getting greater,” Reich said.

He pointed to China and India and their increased consumption of petroleum, due to upward industrialization, as a reason for an increased global demand for oil. He also said there is a need to invest “intellectually and monetarily” in the development of alternative transportation fuels.

“We’re starting to see some encouraging things (such as) the introduction of the all-electric and the plug-in hybrid vehicles,” he said. “Right now the range isn’t there, but given what the average commute is in the U.S., they’ll be perfectly fine.”

In the meantime, USF is working with the New North Transportation Alliance to come up with public transportation improvements on campus, such as ride matches and a Bull Runner depot, to “try to enhance transportation alternatives in this part of the community,” Reich said.