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Gas prices rising

April 19, 2001

Gas prices rising



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Brendan Rice filled up the gas tank of his shiny black pickup Thursday morning at 9.

Five hours later, the 26-year-old Frederick, Md., man was back at the pumps to the tune of $9.25.

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"I don't have a choice. I gotta drive," said Rice, who had just topped off his tank at Sheetz in Hagerstown and was headed to Cincinnati, Ohio, to watch the New York Mets play baseball.

Motorists in the Tri-State area are feeling the effects of leaping gas prices. A month ago, the average gallon of gas in Hagerstown cost $1.39 and now it's at $1.60 and climbing, according to the American Automobile Association.

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The rapid increase is mainly due to a combination of high crude oil prices and the industry's annual switch from winter-grade fuel to summer-grade fuel, which is more costly to produce, said Myra Wieman, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

"What's being pumped into your tank is winter-grade fuel and there's not a lot of that out there," she said. Such low supplies lead to higher market prices.

It's too early to tell what consumers will pay during the peak summer travel season, she said.

Nationwide, analysts' predictions have ranged from $1.50 a gallon locally to as high as $3 a gallon in the Midwest.

"Prices could stabilize as we approach June, but until then, there is no way of knowing how high prices will go. Any interruption in local refining or distribution could result in higher prices at the pump due to the fact that gasoline inventories are so tight," Wieman said.

Dale Conley, 56, of Hagerstown, said the federal government should step in to regulate the industry, which in his opinion has been given a "license to steal."

"I think the oil companies are ripping the American public off. It's highway robbery," he said as he filled up a red gas can.

Higher gas prices have a huge impact on the take-home pay of Hagerstown cab driver Scott Billmeyer, 35.

Billmeyer said he spends $60 a week on gas for his cab and averages $110 in fares.

"We're not really making any money," he said, stopping the gas pump after tapping a little more than 6 gallons of gas for $10.

Paul Toothman works in Hagerstown, which is 170 miles from his home in Fairmont, W.Va. It will hit him hard even though he doesn't commute daily.

"That's not good," he said, glancing at the $1.63-per-gallon price of filling up his sport utility vehicle.

Most people haven't changed their driving habits because of the prices, according to a January survey by AAA.

Only 28 percent of those surveyed said they took steps to save gas. Of those, 90 percent had reduced or combined trips, 52 percent said they switched to a cheaper grade of gas and 45 percent said they carpooled more. Forty-two percent had used public transportation more and 26 percent said they bought a more fuel-efficient vehicle.

Last summer's high gas prices didn't deter people from taking vacations, Wieman said.

"They weren't going to give up that vacation. It's too important," Wieman said.

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