||High Gas Prices? Some Consumers Just Say No
Most motorists are simply bearing up against soaring gasoline prices. They may swear. They may complain. But they end up filling up as always.
Others, however, are fighting back as the nation heads into the spring driving season. Some are riding the bus or train or are carpooling. Some are giving up four wheels for two -- a scooter or bicycle. Some are simply planning their trips more efficiently.
Nationally, 84% of those responding to an AAA survey released in March say they've changed their routines as a result of soaring fuel prices. Better planning -- combining errands into a single trip -- was the most common way cited.
Some 16% say they're less affected because they bought or leased a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Some are like Fleming Law of Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., who is so proud of his Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car, which also has a gasoline motor, that he laughs off higher gas prices.
"Haven't filled up since November. What's the price of gas?" says Law, who's racked up more than 7,500 miles on his Volt. He says he's filled up once since he's owned it.
For the rest of us, gas prices are still an issue. The average price of regular gas is now within 20 cents a gallon of the record $4.114 set in July 2008. Regular averaged $3.921 a gallon last Thursday, up 4 cents from a week earlier and up about 33 cents, or 9%, from a year ago, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
Americans are finding diverse and novel ways to cope with those prices.
Putting scoot in commute
Mike McWilliams bought a 2007 Yamaha Vino motor scooter to putt-putt to community college in Asheville, N.C., and to his job at a doggy day care center. He's studying to become a veterinary technician.
"On the flat, with a good tailwind, I can get it up to like 50, 55 miles per hour," he says before correcting himself. "Actually, that might be on a slight downhill."
It's not speed that McWilliams seeks. A longtime motorcyclist, he says he wanted a fun way to get around the city while saving money. He's gone about 70 miles on the scooter's 1-gallon tank. But it's a fair-weather strategy. Otherwise, he takes his 1996 Saturn.
In Greenville, S.C., Michael Heaton is paying closer attention to the rounds he makes.
There's not much he can do, though, about the cost of fuel for the mowers and weed trimmers he uses for his Greenville Lawn Maintenance. His gasoline bill for them now is about $200 a month, he says.
But he's trying to burn less gas through better planning. "Instead of just going somewhere and getting something...I try to do two or three things when I make a trip," he says. He's also stopped dropping off his mail at the downtown post office. "I just stick it in my mailbox."
Playing their cards right
Karen Papp, 45, of Westland, Mich., gets about 30 miles per gallon in her Hyundai Accent, but with a 60-mile daily commute, she's looking to save. One way she and her husband have discovered: buying Shell gift cards at their local Kroger supermarket. "Shell will give you the cash price (at the pump) for buying with the gift card," she says, which is a few cents cheaper than the credit card price. And Papp gets bonus shopping points at the grocery by swiping her Kroger card at the pump. "I'm always looking for a way to save."
Pumping a bike, not gas
As long as the wind chill stays above zero, you'll find Kirk Wurscher pedaling his bike to work 7 miles each way in Sioux Falls, S.D.
He says at first it was a sometime thing, but "as gas prices went higher, I started doing it more." Then it became a necessity. In 2010, one of his family's two cars died. His wife needed the survivor, so Wurscher found himself biking each day.
Now, the family has two cars again, but Wurscher's car stays parked five or six days a week. He might put 100 miles a month on the car, vs. 500 on his bike.
His cold-weather gear and his bike, which has racks and can carry 140 pounds of cargo, weren't cheap, he says. But with gas prices going higher, the payoff is coming sooner.
And there's the bonus: exercise. "It's more fun to ride a bike than drive a car," he says. "Ten or 12 years ago, I would have never said that."
Downsizing to raise mileage
Chris Purnell of Berlin, Md., once drove a Cadillac, but downsized to a Volkswagen Passat.
"It burns less gas, and it's a lot cheaper to fill it up," he says while fueling the car at a Wawa station in West Ocean City, Md.
Purnell, who works at a Food Lion supermarket, says he's been shaking his head as gas prices rose steadily through the last four years.
It was much the same story for Daria and Christian Schneider of Middletown, N.J. With a second child on the way, they were fed up with their 1999 Range Rover's 11 miles per gallon. They traded it for a 2010 Toyota RAV4. "We really needed to save that money with a baby coming," says Daria, a stay-at-home mom. "That car had to go."
Since buying the Toyota in September, they've been getting double the mileage, about 22 miles per gallon. They estimate they're saving at least $224 a month from what they were shelling out for the Land Rover.
"I think, before, people were freaking out about the prices. But they've gone up so much, it's just reality. You just have to find ways to deal with it," Daria says.
Switching to the bus
When Susan Lacke's Nissan Versa was totaled in a wreck, she left the motoring world behind. Now, the writer, teacher and researcher in the Phoenix suburb of Ahwatukee rides the bus. "I decided not to replace it, because the Phoenix Metro (public bus system) was so easy -- and cheaper than gas," she says.
Lacke says the transition went well at first. She had been spending about $600 a month on auto payments, insurance, maintenance and gasoline. Riding the bus costs just $40 a month, and she figures she can use the savings to pay off student loans. But she pays a price in time: Her 14-mile commute from home to Arizona State University is up from 20 minutes to an hour each way. She says she tries to use the time productively.
"I can get a lot of work done on the bus that I can't do while driving," she explains. "So it gives me a jump-start on the day."
In addition to the bus, Lacke, a triathlete, also sometimes bikes or runs to campus.
Buy electricity instead
Mechanical engineer and self-described "tech geek" Law, who bought the Volt, says, "I don't care about the price of gas. I don't look at it. My wife has to tell me."
He ordered the slate-colored compact car online from a New York dealer last spring, when it was still in limited release, then paid roughly $500 to transport it to Florida. Round trip, his daily commute to Palm Bay is about 25 miles. That's within the electric-only range of the Volt, he says, so he uses virtually no gas getting to work.
He estimates that his electric bill has increased $30 per month to recharge the vehicle each night. The Volt and other electrics don't come cheap, though. The car starts at $39,995 before government subsidies.
"I'm just a techie. I'm just a gadget freak. And it's by far the largest gadget I own," he says.
(Source: USA Today, 03/30/12)
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