The fax machine in Don Larkin’s office at the Chevron station on Sullivan Road has been hitting one note lately.
Day after day it gives him more sour news: Gasoline cost is going up, up, up.
Sometimes it’s a penny a day; one time it was 3 cents. It’s the same news gas stations are getting all over town and it has added up to a more than 30 percent increase in gas prices so far this year.
For Valley commuters, that could easily be a few dollars more per week in fuel costs.
“People don’t understand why it’s been so much so fast,” Larkin says. He’s heard plenty of complaints from customers, but can only shake his head and sympathize. “I don’t have any more idea than they do, other than what I read in the paper.”
What “the paper” says (The New York Times, in this case) is, among other reasons, that heavy use of fuel oil last winter has shortened supplies; that oil brokers were counting on Iraqi oil that did not come through; and that consumer demand has risen because of thirstier vehicles, higher speed limits and more miles driven.
But despite prices on the tall side of $1.40, Larkin says the amount of gas he sells has stayed level. Consumers have, however, shifted away from premium grades and are tanking up on regular to gain some cost savings, he says.
Larkin is anxious to point out that retailers aren’t benefiting from the increase: they’re just passing on the higher costs they’re faced with, he says. In fact, he says some retailers may be scaling back their typical markup of 8 to 9 percent to buffer the increases.
And he points out that state and federal taxes are a 47-cent-per-gallon component of the pump price.
This year’s price hikes come before the traditional Memorial Day inflation, and so we probably haven’t seen the trend crest yet.
“I’m just guessing it will slowly increase,” Larkin says.
Consumers may not understand the reasons for the exploding prices, but that doesn’t stop anyone from complaining about them. The mood at the pump is a little bit surly these days.
“It’s just killing me,” says Rachelle Pulkkila, who drives 600 to 700 miles a week as a medical supplies sales representative. “I’m in the car all day and there’s not much I can do to cut back. It’s not something I can control.”
She topped off the tank of her import wagon and rang up a $10.28 charge. “That’s a half a tank. I used to be able to get a fill-up for $12 or $13.”
“The consumer’s being taken advantage of,” says Jerry Dobson, filling up the reserve tank on his pickup. “They’re taking the opportunity to make some profit. Prices will come down, but not until people complain enough.”
“Somebody’s making some money,” agrees Deni Robinson. “We’re planning to take a big trip this summer and not too excited about gas prices. We have to go - it’s just going to cost us more money than we’d thought. A dollar-twenty I can handle, but prices are just too high.”
Michele Barron has adjusted her driving habits to be more efficient, lumping errands together to avoid extra trips. And as she travels the streets, she’s a hawk on checking out gas prices and remembering where the cheapest prices are for the next fill-up.
Craig Gardner is keeping the eight cars he owns parked a lot more. “It sucks! I don’t do any recreational driving anymore. My only driving is back and forth to work.”
“I think it’s a money grab,” says George Cambridge. “Somebody’s trying to get the Iraqis’ oil back in circulation. They’ll swear there’s a shortage, then swear they need Iraqi oil,” he theorizes.
As a retiree on a fixed income, he feels an extra pinch from the added costs. He says he’ll drive to the hospital if he has too, but that’s about it.
Surely, the guy most immune from gas inflation is the owner of a gas station; Don Larkin, for instance.
“Hey, I’m not going to be able to go salmon fishing again this year,” he says, because his truck-boat trailer combination gets such low gas mileage. A recent fishing trip burned $180 worth of gas, he said.
, DataTimes MEMO: On Your Way is a Valley Voice column focusing on commuter lifestyles and issues. Your views on any of the topics discussed are invited. Please write: On Your Way, The Valley Voice, 13208 E. Sprague, Spokane, WA 99216. Or fax us at 459-5482.