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From here to there costs more

Thursday, May 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:54 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fred Bunney regularly travels from his home in Pittsburg, Kan., to Columbia for treatment at Truman Veteran’s Hospital. Not long ago, gasoline for the round trip cost him about $23. Today, it runs him closer to $50.

“I used to go out riding around because I’m disabled,” said Bunney, as he filled his tank at the Phillips 66 at Providence Road and Locust Street. “Now I can’t do that.”

Nearly every day mid-Missouri sees a new high for gasoline prices, and the trend seems destined to continue. Tuesday, the average cost per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline was $1.95, according to the Missouri chapter of the American Automobile Association. Before the recent surge in the price of gas in the past month, the local record was $1.76 per gallon in 2002.

With lower inventories, higher crude oil prices — more than $40 per barrel Tuesday — and increased summer demand, prices will likely continue to rise, said Kerry Cordray, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

“It sure seems to be that the direction is up,” Cordray said.

Missourians should maybe consider themselves lucky. The state’s gas prices are below the national average, which reached $2.01 on Tuesday.

Lower taxes, easier access to sources of supply and strong retail competition have combined to keep Missouri prices a bit lower, said Michael Right, vice president of public affairs for AAA Missouri.

Few people seem moved, for now anyway, to alter their driving habits. Right said he has not seen any trend toward less travel due to the price of gas, although he notes that some people are re-thinking their choice of vehicle.

[photo]

Sehon Williams monitors the pump as he fills his car’s gas tank Monday at the Phillips 66 station on the corner of Providence Road and Locust Street, where unleaded gas cost $1.899 per gallon. “I think they’re gouging us,” he said of rising gas prices. (Photos by ELI LOPATIN/Missourian)

“Miles per gallon ratings have gone up significantly as a level of importance in what people want,” Right said. “I think we are going to see more hybrids and alternative power cars in the near future. Detroit will be cranking them out.”

That’s not a trend observed by Cordray — at least not yet. Gas prices would probably go down, and stay down, if more people chose to drive fuel-efficient vehicles, changed the way they drive and took better care of their cars, he said.

“If you’re looking for somebody to blame, look at all the cars getting less than 20 miles per gallon,” Cordray said. “The financial impact is not hurting enough to make people stop.”

That’s the case for Dave Fuller, who was filling up his 2004 Chevrolet Suburban at a Break Time on Nifong Boulevard last weekend. Fuller said that while SUVs get poor gas mileage, the larger vehicle is a necessity for him. He has six kids to haul around.

“Prices don’t really affect how much I drive,” he said. “But if they keep going up, after a while I will have to cut back.”

[photo]

Tom Freeman fills his gas tank Monday at the Phillips 66 station at Providence Road and Locust Street. Freeman says he is not bothered by higher prices for gasoline because he has spent time in Europe. “Gas is two to three times the price there,” he says.

Other drivers said the price of gas hasn’t yet forced them to do anything different. Lynne Pye, who was at the Phillips 66 earlier last week, when regular unleaded cost a mere $1.89 per gallon, said it’s been business as usual for her.

“If you have to get somewhere,” she said, “you’ll pay the price.”

Don Schilling said the high prices haven’t affected him. His two vehicles get 31 and 27 miles to the gallon. He said thinking about what it costs an SUV driver to fill up “gives me a giggle.”

Cordray said some people probably realize that, although the price of gasoline seems to go up everyday, it has taken a bigger bite out of consumers’ wallets in the past. According to the Energy Information Administration, which charts energy prices for the federal government, the price for a gallon of gas in 1922, after inflation, was $2.81. It was a few cents higher than that in 1980 and ’81, during the Iran hostage crisis. During the Arab oil embargo of two decades ago, when fuel was rationed and consumers formed long lines, the average price was a bit more than $2 a gallon.

“If you adjust for inflation, prices back in the seventies would have been comparatively higher,” Cordray said.

Missourian reporter Renata Turk contributed to this report.


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