Pain at the pump: Commuters suffer as gas prices soar

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Shelby County residents and businesses have felt the strain this summer from rising gas prices, with many drivers worrying about how they can still afford fuel if the price hikes continue.

Commuters have been hit especially hard in the county, with many driving upwards of 20 to 30 miles one way to work.

Don Bowen lives in the Inverness area and commutes 12 miles to work at the University of Alabama at Birmingham each day.

&uot;It’s costing more and more every day,&uot; Bowen said. &uot;But I have to do it. I can’t just quit working.&uot;

Bowen is not alone when it comes to the need to drive in Shelby County.

According to the Census Bureau, at the beginning of 2005 more than 56 percent of the estimated 74,000 workers in Shelby County leave the county to drive to work.

Executive director of the Shelby County Economic and Industrial Authority James Dedes has been monitoring these statistics and examining how they are affecting county drivers and commuters.

&uot;At $2.55 a gallon, these commuters are spending on average 42 percent more for gasoline then they did the same time last year,&uot; Dedes said.

&uot;The average commuter could easily spend over an additional $1,000 annually for fuel costs depending on driving conditions and length of commute.&uot;

And the length of the commute has played a key role in leaving many Shelby County residents searching for ways to save money.

Pelham resident Lindsey Handley works for a construction company and says his commute to work, paired with daily trips for supplies around the area, have taken a toll on the amount of money he brings in each month.

&uot;It has effected me tremendously,&uot; Handley said. &uot;I spend between $110 and $130 a week on gas. If gas prices were to start going down again, today wouldn’t be soon enough.&uot;

AAA Alabama set the state’s average gas price at $2.55 a gallon last week after two weeks of constant price hikes in the month of August.

Clay Ingram, public relations manager for AAA Alabama, said drivers could get a slight break from the skyrocketing prices but more still needs to be done before fuel prices will be totally curbed.

&uot;It’s typical to see a rise in prices during the summer travel season,&uot; Ingram said.

&uot;Once we get to the end of the travel season, after Labor Day, we will likely see prices fall a bit.&uot;

Ingram said there is a misconception about why gas prices have risen so much.

&uot;It’s all tied to the demand for fuel,&uot; he said. &uot;The supply is there. The rising prices are demand driven.&uot;

Ingram said that on average there is a 2 percent increase in the U.S.’s demand for fuel each year. Early projections for this year show that demand increase nearer to 3 percent.

&uot;One percent might not seem like much,&uot; he said. &uot;But when you think about the billions of gallons of gas that this country consumes during the year, that little increase turns out to be pretty large.&uot;

But Shelby County residents could soon be taking another hit to the pocketbook away from the gas pump.

According to Dedes, businesses around the area will soon have to raise prices as a direct result of gas costs.

&uot;Increased fuel costs will also negatively impact companies that rely heavily on trucking to distribute their products,&uot; he said.

&uot;Numerous Shelby County businesses, from automotive parts suppliers to wholesale food distributors, will have to pass these costs on to the consumer or risk hurting themselves.&uot;

Both Dedes and Ingram said there is no guarantee of prices falling off in the coming fall and winter months.

&uot;People are relying more on gas every year in their daily lives,&uot; Ingram said. &uot;There is concern that demand will not drop as much as we hope, but it’s a wait-and-see sort of thing.&uot;