Pump Pain: Soaring Gas Prices' Effect Felt
A year ago, Richard Chatham started a transportation service, The Great British Cab Service.
His automobiles run on diesel fuel which, at the time he started the business, was much cheaper than regular gasoline.
"That's obviously not the case anymore," Chatham said.
Individuals, as well as businesses, who make a living driving their cars or using gasoline-powered machinery are seeing their net incomes shrink as the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel rises.
Average gas prices across the nation have jumped to $3.671 per gallon for self-serve regular. Diesel fuel costs more than $4.20 per gallon. The average price for a gallon of regular gas is $3.661, up from 3.329 just a month ago and $2.923 a year ago, according to AAA Carolinas.
In the Southern Pines area, the average price for a gallon of self-serve regular is $3.62 at the time of this printing, according to AAA Carolinas. That compares to $3.297 a month ago and $2.204 a year ago.
Chatham said he hasn't raised prices yet, but he is strongly considering measures to offset the rising prices.
"We are thinking about a gas surcharge if we go out of the area," Chatham said. 'We've not had to implement that yet, but we are holding it on the back burner."
Chatham said he has not seen a decrease in customer volume, but he fears the repercussions of ever-increasing prices.
"Eventually it is going to present a problem," Chatham said. "People are only willing to pay so much for their transportation needs. If it's a pleasure thing they will have to cut back."
Where Chatham is really feeling the crunch is in his other business as a traveling salesman.
Chatham sells toys to small mom-and-pop toy stores in North Carolina. He has done so for the past 12 years, and he said this year has been a tough year financially.
"Price of gas has really impacted me on that because I work off straight commission," Chatham said.
Chatham said he currently drives a car that gets about 21 miles to the gallon. He said a recent trip to Greenville and back cost him $60.
"To cover that $60, I have to make at least $700 in sales," Chatham said.
He said he conducts more of his business via the phone and sets more appointments on each business trip.
"I definitely want to try to schedule appointments in the same area and get as many in one day as possible," Chatham said.
Timmy Buie has driven an 18-wheeler for 20 years and has also worked as a newspaper carrier for The Pilot for 23 years. He said the cost of gas is hitting him hard.
"Most of the independents (truckers) are parking now," Buie said. "If you are not in a big company, you don't have a job."
Buie and Paul Horner, another Pilot carrier, say the gas allowance they receive covers about 2/3 fewer expenses than it did a year ago. Both carriers said they plan out their routes and utilize the shortest trip possible to maximize gas and time.
"It (rising gas price) is certainly making profits less," Horner said.
Municipalities across Moore County are also feeling the crunch.
"All I can say is it's a double whammy," said Rickie Monroe, public works director in Aberdeen. "Pretty much everything the public works department has runs on gasoline."
Monroe heads a department with 26 employees. Those employees are constantly on the go, checking wells and pump stations, picking up garbage, and making routine maintenance trips.
"I am getting some prices on horses and wagons," Monroe joked, "and I am checking the prices of corn to feed them and that ain't no better."
On a more serious note, Monroe said he is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"We are dealing with it the best we can," Monroe said. "We are trying to cut down on trips and get it through people's heads -- don't waste trips."
Even Pinehurst Resort is starting to feel the economic pinch.
"No doubt we feel it," said Janeen Driscoll, public relations director for the resort. "It is affecting our overall financial performance."
Driscoll said the resort is not seeing a reduction in bookings because of the increase in gas prices. She said if past performance is an indication, the resort will see an increase in in-state tourists.
"Our summer business is centered around five contiguous states to North Carolina," Driscoll said. "That close travel tends to increase when gas prices increase. ... People from North Carolina who want to travel will stay closer to home."
'Be More Creative'
Driscoll said resort staff are being asked to be proactive in conserving, but not at the expense of the customers.
"We are still a four-star resort," Driscoll said. "The situation (higher gas prices) causes us to be more creative. We are asking staff to be thinking about ways of saving and economizing."
Driscoll said the staff, so far, has responded.
"It is pretty amazing, once you make that request, how they can do it creatively," she said.
Some of those creative ways are ride sharing and making fewer trips.
Driscoll said the soaring prices have made for a stressful summer.
"We are monitoring everything very carefully," she said. "We have no idea when it is going to turn."
One organization that says it isn't feeling the crunch so far is The O'Neal School. School spokesperson Kathy Taylor said there have been no major changes in transportation yet.
The school has seven buses -- four that run pickup and drop-off routes, two for athletic events and field trips and one smaller bus used for extra needs students. Daily buses travel from the school to Sanford, Rockingham, Laurinburg and Troy.
From August to April, the buses have run a total of 95,500 miles. April was one of the busiest months with a total of 14,460 miles.
The Moore County school system continues to monitor gas prices closely as the school year winds down.
About 136 buses cover 10,000 miles daily to transport children to and from schools. Those totals don't include miles traveled by buses and vehicles transporting students and staff for daytime activities, field trips or athletic events.
That translates to 1,400 gallons of diesel fuel a day, or one 7,500-gallon tanker truck load per week.
The state pays for the cost of transporting children to and from school. Local funds are used to pay for activity buses, field trips and transportation for athletic teams.
Transportation needs for the schools will ease soon. O'Neal's school year concludes at the end of May, and Moore County Schools finish the regular school year in mid-June.
Several Moore County schools attend school year-round.
To find the cheapest gas, visit AAA.com/fuelfinder
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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