Citizens react to rising gas prices

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

The drastic rise in gas prices has many consumers wondering what to do.

Despite a war on terror that directly involves one of the world’s leading petroleum producers, oil companies are still recording record profits.

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There seems to be little or no relief for the American consumer.

“Gas prices are way too high,” said local resident Malcolm Smith. Smith’s unhappiness with rates at the pump is compounded by two factors –

he drives a truck, and he needs that truck to run his lawn-cutting business. “What I make cutting grass, I turn right around and spend on gas. (Gas) shouldn’t be this high. Other than quit buying gas, I don’t really know how we can solve the problem.”

The Energy Information Administration breaks down the country into eight major regions when comparing gas prices.

Alabama is in the Gulf Coast Region, which also includes Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and New Mexico. Statistics as of Monday, April 24 show the average cost of regular gas in the region is $2.881, up more than 63 cents from early March. It is a 74-cent increase from one year ago, the highest of any other region in the nation.

The average cost of mid-grade gas is $2.978, and the cost of premium gas is $3.075, all significant increases from the year prior.

By comparison, the average cost of gas for the nation is $2.914 for regular, $3.014 for mid-grade and $3.121 for premium.

However, it’s not as simple as lowering prices just to get more customers than competitors and keeping those customers happy.

“I can’t do it. I have to do what my boss tells me to do,” said Latontia Johnson, manager of the Parkway Chevron. “Gas has gotten so expensive now that it costs them more to buy it. If they make (gas prices) lower, they won’t make any kind of profit. They’ll just be losing money.”

Prices for regular gas in Selma as recently as Monday have been between $2.839 and $3.029. But as in many places, those rates change – sometimes several times in the same day.

Government officials and industry experts have encouraged people who have to do a lot of driving to shop around for the lowest prices.

Once again, that’s easier said than done.

“I used to try to find the cheapest gas, but that doesn’t pay,” Wilson Ross said. “By the time I drive all over town to try to find the cheapest price, I’ve burned up more gas. I used to go all the way over the river to buy gas.”

According to information from the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS), Selma’s cheapest gas is typically sold at convenience stores on the outskirts of town. Of 23 gas stations listed, four of the six cheapest were located on either Highway 80 or Highway 41. Most of the middle and higher-priced gas is being sold at stations within a few miles of each other in the heart of the city.

With no immediate chance of prices lowering, drivers are handcuffed by an economy dependent on fuel.

“A lot of people say gas is getting so high, they can’t afford it,” Johnson said. “They know they have to get it, though. They complain, and they ask when it’s going to drop, but they still buy it.”