Rising gas prices leave motorists dizzy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

Like a roller coaster, they're up, then they're down, then they're way up again. But unlike a roller coaster, gas prices are taking motorists for a ride they aren't thrilled to be on.

Literally overnight, the numbers on the pump increased by as much as 18 cents a gallon in Ironton and its surrounding communities, going from $1.89 to $2.07 per gallon for self-serve regular gasoline at some stations.

The difference sent drivers scrambling for a cheaper alternative. At Clark's Pump 'N Shop in Coal Grove, they lined up Wednesday to take advantage of the store's $1.91 per gallon rate.

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"We're filling three cars up before it (the price) goes up again," Neal Humphrey, 72, of Coal Grove, said. "It'll help a little, I reckon."

While Humphrey said he doubted there would be any immediate relief, he pointed to November as a possible reason to hope.

"Maybe after the election the price will go back down," he said.

Humphrey and his wife Verna were joined at the pump by Scott Dilley of Deering. He too was trying to fill up while the prices were still low, but Dilley said he wasn't counting on the election for a reduction.

"Gas prices probably are going to continue to rise," Dilley, 25, said.

Despite that possibility, Dilley said he didn't see any point in complaining.

"I have a friend in California that pays over $3 a gallon," he said. "So, as far as around here, yeah, it may be high around here, but it's not high compared to other states. So, it doesn't bother me."

Cheri Evans of Ironton was on duty at the station Wednesday. She said she fields complaints about prices on a daily basis, but her reply is always the same.

"I tell them (customers) I have no control over it," Evans said.

Unfortunately, Evans said the lower price at Clark's Pump N Shop would be going up today.

Although often blamed by customers for the rise in gas prices, Delmer Hicks, owner of Portsmouth-based South Shore Gas and Oil, said he and his competitors are also feeling the pinch.

"I've been in this business for 40 years," Hicks said. "We're paying more for it (gasoline) now than we ever haveŠ.We're making less margin on it than we did when it was cheaper," Hicks said. "Sometimes we're lucky to break even after we pay freight costs to get it delivered."

After absorbing those upfront costs, Hicks said his company makes about three or four cents per gallon of gasoline sold. For independent dealers, the revenue can be even lower, especially for those who try to undersell their competitors. But Hicks said he was doubtful that relief is on the way for owners or their customers.

"These foreign countries are holding us hostage," he said. "They control the price. Unless we can get them to back off, I don't see things changing any time soon."

AAA East Central spokesperson Bevi Norris sites a variety of reasons for Ohio's increase in gas prices, including security concerns in Nigerian and Iraqi oil fields as well as labor strife among Norwegian oil workers. However, reduced oil production in the Gulf of Mexico due to damage caused by Hurricane Ivan is the most pressing factor, Norris said.

With the price of crude oil hitting $54 per barrel, the likelihood of relief is somewhat dismal for consumers, Norris said. But perhaps they can take comfort knowing that

everyone is in the same boat (or car in this case) when it comes to dealing with higher costs.

"Prices are pretty standard across the board," Norris said. "For Western Pennsylvania, for this week the average is $2 (a gallon). For South Central Ohio, $1.97Šand for West Virginia, it's $1.96, so they're all within a few cents of each other."

For more information about AAA, login to their Web site at www.aaa.com or call (800) 441-5008.