Full tanks equal empty wallets

Full tanks equal empty wallets

URBANA – Lorean Howard of Urbana was driving down Main Street in Urbana on Friday morning when she decided to stop for something to eat.

And then she saw it – the ominous light on her dashboard that flickers on when the gas tank is nearly empty.

Uh oh. She knew she couldn't put it off any longer. She pulled into a Collins Oil station, cringed at the $3.24-per-gallon price and started filling her tank – or at least part of it.

"I just got $10," she said with a sigh.

Let's see what $10 bought, Howard said as she turned the key in her vehicle's ignition and looked at the gas gauge.

"I betcha my light is still on," she said. "Look, it barely moved."

Climbing gasoline prices are making customers like Howard mighty unhappy at the pumps these days, though many don't have a choice about filling up.

The four-day average for a gallon of regular gasoline in Champaign was $3.08 on Friday, and that average was a penny higher in Urbana, according to the State of Illinois Gas Price Monitoring Web site.

The AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report on Friday set the national average for a gallon of regular at $3.00, compared to $2.93 a month ago and $2.29 a year ago.

If it pains you to fuel your car these days, try being Marty Smith of Urbana, who operates Smith Mowing and Landscaping with his son.

Smith pulled into the Collins Oil station to gas up four mowers and two reserve tanks Friday morning and plunked down about $55.

And he has to do that three times a week.

Smith said the steadily increasing gas prices this year have made about a $1,500 difference in his fuel costs over last year, and since he works mostly with previously established contracts, he can't adjust his prices.

"I have 47 clients, and they've got to be mowed," he said.

Smith says he doesn't blame the service stations, which are just trying to keep up with wholesale prices. He directs his blame at a much higher level in the supply chain.

Collins President Dorothy Collins, who operates three gas stations in Champaign-Urbana, said the latest price increase was being blamed on Tropical Storm Chris.

Chris didn't amount to much, she remarks, and it's too bad the suppliers can't wait to see how a storm is going to behave before raising prices.

"Maybe they just wanted to reserve some gas back in case something happened, and that's why they boosted the price," she said.

Collins was hoping to see some price relief on the way later Friday, and meanwhile, she said, she was just trying to remain competitive with other stations in Champaign-Urbana.

Collins said the higher prices haven't affected customers' driving habits much that she can see, but it has affected sales among customers who may be waiting to see if the price goes down. Sales were "pretty dead" Thursday, she added.

Jerry Call, a 63-year-old Champaign accountant, said he's still pretty much buying the gas he needs, despite the price. And he points out prices still aren't costing consumers as much now as they were in 1973, adjusting for inflation.

Back then, gas cost about 40 cents a gallon, and today, "it would need to be $3.40 now to be equivalent," he adds.

Call also said he doesn't blame anybody for the increase.

"Prices are set by economic factors," he said. "Nobody is getting gouged."

Zach Grant, a University of Illinois graduate student who hails from Kankakee, disagrees. "I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just profit gouging by gas companies," he said.

Grant, however, was still filling his car up in Champaign on Friday because he was setting out for Chicago and didn't have a choice, he said.

"It's not going to get any cheaper as I go north," he added.

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