Things ain't the way they used to be
The Citizen explores the reality of "full tank, empty wallet"
by Matthew Burgoyne
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
War, disease, famine, and even the occasional scary movie are all things that people should fear. Over the past few years, however, Americans have added a new fear to their list - gas stations.
The increase in fuel prices is affecting the entire country, but its impacts are clearly evident here in Morgan County.
Karen Robertson, Family Connections Coordinator for Morgan County, is a victim of high fuel prices. Robertson is a wife, a mother of two sons and two daughters, and her family spends over $200 per month on gas.
“We spend on average $125 filling up the van twice a month, and we never fill up the Excursion. It sits in the front yard,” Robertson said.
The Excursion sits in the front yard because it costs an additional $130 to fuel. With a busy family of four, the Robertson’s were forced to make some cut backs to make up for the rising gas prices.
“I try and cut back on the extra trips I used to take,” Robertson said. Robertson would occasionally go to Athens or Lithonia to go shopping at the malls, but those trips are scarce now. The price of keeping her car fueled up is to high.
As the price of gas has increased, Robertson’s driving efficiency has sharpened. She now plans her trips based on what side of town she will be on. Any errands that need to be done near her work she does in the morning, whereas any errands that need to be run at the children’s schools she does when she picks them up. Robertson has cut back on much of her extra driving as a result of her gas bill each month.
With children involved in baseball and other after school activities, Robertson has had to make sure gas is a part of her monthly budget. As part of this, she has made her use of gas coincide with her priorities.
The Robertson family attends church outside of Madison. One of Robertson’s highest priorities is her faith. As a result, Robertson takes into account the gas used to get to and from services on Sunday and Bible study on Wednesday. In these circumstances, Robertson cuts back on other activities to accommodate the amount of gas used to get to church. These changes are a direct result from the increase in gas prices. With a van and an SUV, the Robertson family may not have the best luck when it comes to gas bills, but the Callahan couple do in a way.
In December 2004, Monica Callahan, Madison City Planner, and her husband purchased the newest trend in a greener existence - hybrid vehicles. After researching and searching numerous car lots with long waiting lists, the couple finally found the Toyota Hybrid Prius they had been looking for.
When Callahan purchased the red car, which has been affectionately names “Little Sparky,” her reasoning for it had nothing to do with rising gas prices.
“It was a green decision,” Callahan explained.
As the price of gas increased, the efficiency of the Hybrid vehicle played to the advantage of Callahan. Getting 48 to 52 miles per gallon, “Little Sparky” does not put a huge dent in the couple’s monthly budget.
Because the Hybrid gets such great gas mileage, Callahan rarely has to fill up the tank. A Hybrid car tuns on battery power if going under a certain speed. This eliminates the use of gas, especially during middle of the day, downtown, stop-and-go traffic.
Despite the money they are saving on gas, the Callahan couple still limits the amount of driving they do. In wanting a “greener” lifestyle, Callahan avoids driving her car for entertainment.
“We eat and play locally,” Callahan said.
Having a Hybrid and understanding the importance of conservation, Callahan has become more conscientious about her decisions.
“To be honest, I do not look at the price of gas. I’m not concerned with the price of gas,” Callahan said. Though it does not concern her, she still has sympathy for those who cannot help but be affected by the outrageous increases.
“People should make better decisions no matter what the price of gas is,” Callahan said. She is not saying that everyone should run out and buy a Hybrid, because she admits they are expensive, but Callahan believes that even the smallest choices can be made not only to conserve fuel, but to save money. Unfortunately, some people are forced to use large amounts of gas, because it is their livelihood at stake.
John Maddox runs a business with two employees - his sons, Davis and Jace. The Maddox family operates a hauling and tractor business out of their home in Morgan County and they spend $4,000 to $5,000 on fuel per month.
Though these thousands of dollars are part of a business budget, the effects reach into their domestic income.
“It’s been a significant dent. The profit margin has greatly been reduced,” said Maddox.
The Maddox family works six days a week, Monday through Saturday. The operate seven large pieces of hauling and tractor equipment. They also have trucks to move the equipment to the location it is needed to do work. On average, Maddox uses 100 gallons of gas per day. With the price of fuel continually on the rise, anyone can assume how much Maddox is having to spend.
“For me, their has been a 40 percent increase in the price of fuel since last year,” Maddox said.
To better understand Maddox’s spending, he offered a true scenario. As part of his business, he hauls gravel to Monticello. The trip is 40 miles one way. Maddox makes this trip around 30 times. To fill up the truck that hauls the gravel, Maddox spends $450. A tank of gas can get him to and from Monticello four times. On this truck alone, Maddox has to budget almost $3,500 for fuel.
Maddox also mentioned how an increase in fuel prices is impacting more than just how much is spent at the pump. With each price hike, the cost to produce and transport goods also increases. It may only be a few cents increase, but adding a small amount to every item can take a toll on a budget.
“No matter who we are it is costing us to get through our daily lives,” Maddox said.
He is right. The increase in fuel prices is not only affecting those buying the gas, but it also impacts those who are selling the gas.
David Berryman has run his fuel station for over twenty years. August will mark the 21st anniversary of Berryman’s work at the downtown location. He has the experience, and he is fearful of what is to come in terms of fuel prices.
“Every week has its ups and downs,” Berryman said.
Berryman keeps his station open six days a week, everyday but Sunday. A few years ago, he could tell anyone which days were going to be busy and which days were going to be slow. He can no longer do that.
“People aren’t traveling as much as they used to,” Berryman said. “There is not as much traffic on the road as there used to be.”
The increase in fuel prices has greatly affected Berryman’s business. Last year, his station would take in a 9,300 gallon load. Now, it only takes in 8,300 gallons. The decrease in the amount of gas brought to the station is not the only downfall. A fuel delivery used to happen every week, and sometimes even less than a week. Currently, Berryman explains, a load of fuel can last him up to two weeks or more.
Buying the fuel to supply his station is also a problem. With costs the way they are in conjunction with the demand for fuel decreasing, It takes Berryman longer to make payments on previous loads of gas. Fortunately, his provider obviously understands, but this has not always been the case.
With decreases in the amount and the frequency of the deliveries, the impacts that fuel costs are having, especially on smaller stations like Berryman’s, are far-reaching.
The price of gas has been a constant piece of coverage for news outlets around the country. On May 13, the average price of gas reached a sixth consecutive all-time high at $3.732 per gallon, according to CNN reports. This average is for regular, unleaded gasoline. This increase accounts for the eleven percent increase over the past month and a twenty-one percent increase over the past year, according to the AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. CNN goes on to say that experts believe that gas prices will continue to soar through June.
No matter what the situation is, people around the country are making changes to their lifestyle to accommodate for the increasing fuel prices. This is evident even in examples of the citizens of Madison. The price of gas is impacting everyone in different ways and changes are being made. Here are some ways for you to conserve gas based off of stories given by local residents.
• Slow down on the highway.
• Combine trips to make more efficient use of your gas.
• Car-pool to work and other functions, especially with the kids.
• Cut out extra, unnecessary trips. Find things locally to do for entertainment.
Though there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet in terms of gas prices, it is important to remain hopeful and combat the rising costs by using proactive ways to conserve gas. Ultimately, you will be living a “greener” life, saving money, and suppressing the irrational fear of gas stations.