Tri-State residents coping with high gas prices

Some are trading in their SUVs for vehicles with better gas mileage

March 12, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Gas prices are displayed Thursday at a Hagerstown gas station.
By Yvette May, Staff photographer

Miles Hawthorne was pumping gas into the tank of his station wagon Wednesday afternoon at the Sheetz convenience store in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

The sign outside said a gallon of regular gas cost $3.69.9.

The pump at the 7-Eleven store on W.Va. 45 west of Shepherdstown also registered $3.69.9 on Wednesday.

Charles Town Service Center's price Thursday was $3.72.9, the highest seen at any of the stations during random checks Tuesday through Thursday at stations in Washington County, Franklin County, Pa., and Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia.

Hawthorne, 35, of Martinsburg, W.Va., a Shepherd University student, said gas prices tend to be higher in Shepherdstown than in other places. He blamed the demographics of the college town and the fact that students "have disposable income."

One of the lowest prices for regular gas at the stations checked Tuesday was $3.45.9 at Shawley's Hardware on Lappans Road in Saint James.

When Sam Dunn arrived at work Tuesday morning his pump read $3.41.9 for 87 octane.

"We try to keep the price low to draw in customers. Hopefully, they'll buy something else," he said.

Some West Virginia residents complain that the gasoline tax in their state is higher than in surrounding states.

According to the American Petroleum Institute's Web site, the total state tax on gas in West Virginia is 32.2 cents a gallon. Add the 18.4 cents the federal government tacks on and the total tax comes to 50.6 cents a gallon.

Maryland charges 23.5 cents in state taxes. The 18.4 cents in federal taxes brings the total to 41.9 cents per gallon.

In Pennsylvania, gas is taxed at 32.3 cents a gallon. The federal 18.4 cents takes the total to 50.7 cents.

Rachel Rhodes was topping off the tank of her 1990 two-wheel drive pickup at the Sheetz on Pennsylvania Avenue north of Hagerstown.

"It's lucky that I live close to work," she said as the pump rolled up the dollars. "I love this truck, but it only gets about 15 miles per gallon."

At $3.49.9 cents a gallon, Rhodes said, a fill-up can cost her more than $70.

At the next pump, Tim and Lauren Heffner were filling the tank of their 2007 hybrid for the first time since they bought the car three weeks ago. They traded in a car that she said took them only about 210 miles on a tank of gas.

The hybrid tank holds 11.9 gallons, which will get them about 400 miles, she said.

The pump at the nearby Martin's grocery store registered the same price for regular, $3.49.9 cents.

Trevor Hood of Waynesboro, Pa., was putting gas into his pickup truck.

"This is ridiculous," he said, glancing at the price. "I'm waiting for everything else to go up now. I think it's time to buy a horse."

The price for regular gas at a new Sheetz on Pa. 16 east of Greencastle, Pa., was $3.47.9 cents, the same as it was at a nearby Exxon station on Pa. 16, just west of its intersection with Interstate 81.

Regular gas was selling for $3.53.9 cents a gallon at the Mini Mart on Molly Pitcher Highway north of State Line, Pa.

Randy Wallen, owner of Family Pre-Owned Auto Sales at 1367 Shepherdstown Road in Martinsburg, pointed to an SUV on the lot.

"Somebody came in and traded it for a car that gets good mileage," he said. "I won't be able to sell it, so I'll just take it to the auction in a couple of weeks."

Wallen said the fast-rising gas prices are already hitting people.

"A woman came in Monday with (an SUV)," he said. "She said it gets 12 miles a gallon. She said that she's having another baby and needs to save money. It's been unreal. People are looking for small cars. These days, I don't buy anything that gets less than 30 miles a gallon."

Across the road from Wallen's lot is the Parsons Ford, Lincoln, Mercury dealership.

Larry Pitzer, Parsons Ford's general manager, said sales of the Focus, a popular Ford economy model that gets 30 miles per gallon, have been picking up.

"A lot of people are switching from four-wheel drive to two-wheel drive vehicles because of the gas mileage. I feel sorry for the truck owners who need them for their work. They're really suffering."

Pitzer said he was eagerly awaiting the new Focus model, which should reach the showroom in about two months.

"It gets 40 miles a gallon," he said.

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