Drivers feel the pain as gas nears $4 a gallon

With turmoil in Libya and several other oil-rich states in North Africa and the Middle East, the U.S. average for a gallon of gas recently topped $3.50, a climb of about 40 cents in a month and nearly 80 cents from a year ago.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, March 20, 2011; 2:10 PM

They have kids, mortgages, bills and eight-cylinder sedans that get lousy gas mileage and demand to be filled up every day.

Rising gas prices are killing the cabbies, costing them an extra $20 a day to fill their tanks. Some people are driving less, and others are looking for different ways to get from here to there. Carpooling has fresh appeal, the train seems a more viable option, office bike racks are filling up earlier in the morning and some drivers say they are not as cavalier in planning their Saturday morning errands as they were at $2.60 a gallon.

If gas prices stay high long enough, the trickledown hits even those who rarely depend on combustion engines to get around. Groceries get to the market in trucks. Packages get delivered to the front door in vans. Every store in the mall is filled with goods that arrived on wheels propelled by $100-a-barrel oil. Unless oil goes down, price tags will click up or profits will suffer.

"I just pump," said Gary Eckstein as he filled his Jeep Wrangler at an Exxon station on Lee Highway in Fairfax County. "I hate to look at it."

His wife helps hunt down the cheapest prices. This week that was $3.82 a gallon and $47.80 to fill the tank.

"It's worth it to her," he said with a shrug. "Not to me."

Although Eckstein can tailor his driving to suit his budget, cabdrivers are stuck between what one described as "a rock and the point of a spear." Their rates are regulated, so bumping up fares to keep pace with gas prices is out of the question.

"I spend every day 45, 50 dollars," said Kefelegen M. Abate, 32, of Northwest Washington, who has been driving a cab in the District for six years.

Most taxis are larger vehicles, Fords or Lincolns, that burn a gallon of gas every 12 to 16 miles.

"I can't afford it," Abate said. "I'm driving 16, 17 hours [a day]. I have two kids. By the end of the day, by the time I get in the house, I can't make that much money to survive."

In Chicago, cabbies are allowed to collect a $1 fuel surcharge when gas rises above $3.20 a gallon for seven straight business days, but there is no such boost for local taxi drivers.

Monitoring price jumps

Gas prices averaged $3.63 a gallon in the District this week, though some stations in the region were charging $4 a gallon. AAA's weekly survey found a $4.55 per gallon charge at the Watergate Exxon station on Virginia Avenue NW.

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