Friday, May 2nd, 2008
By Shelley Grieshop
Motorists angry, driving less
Grand Lake area residents may have reached their breaking point.
As gasoline prices rose this week to an all-time high of near $3.60 per gallon, many motorists appear to be driving less, riding bicycles more and contemplating hybrid vehicle purchases.
"We're planning our errands ahead of time and doing all we can in one trip," said Tina Freeman of Celina.
The 32-year-old said the family's summer vacation will be spent much closer to home than previous years and an upcoming trip to Pennsylvania to go four-wheeling likely won't happen.
"It's frustrating," she says, adding she and her husband are cutting back on other expenses like eating out and those little extras at the grocery store in order to balance their family budget.
Gas prices today are double what they were just four years ago. Elizabeth Sudman, 36, recalls her teens when "cruising" around town was common at 87 cents per gallon.
"I remember those days in high school when $10 would fill the tank," she says.
Sudman, also of Celina, slips a $20 gas gift card into the slot at the gas pump at a local station. She glances at the digital read-out on the pump and doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.
"Five and a half gallons is all I get with this," she says, shaking her head in disbelief. "What a bummer."
As the weather improves each spring, driving typically increases along with gasoline demand. But not his year. Some local motorists are choosing to drive less and save money.
Gasoline sales have significantly dropped the last two weeks at Docksider Marathon in Celina as prices climbed closer to the $4 mark. A manager at the Main Street business said sales the last two weeks were down an average 450 gallons per day compared to the same time period last year, when the price was $2.80.
Tony Griffith of St. Marys says he's happy to park his truck and drive his 45 miles-to-the-gallon motorcycle every chance he gets. It's budget, budget, budget for he and his wife and their two young children.
"We're a single-income family so it's a little harder for us," he says.
Tom Shiverdecker, a 57-year-old salesman from Celina, says he has "absolutely cut out extra driving," including all pleasure trips such as a planned Gatlinburg trip.
"This is terrible," he says.
Fifty-three-year-old Cynthia Vogan, also of Celina, says the $10 worth of gas she pumped in her car this week is all she can afford from her limited Social Security check.
"That probably won't get me around to pay my bills," she says in a disgusted tone.
Dave Springer believes gas gouging is a conspiracy to help politicians pad their pockets. He's also sure the incentive checks that are currently being released from the government are part of the scam.
"They'll just get it back anyway, and they know it. They've already found a way to put it in their pockets," he says, motioning to the gas pumps, "while they rape the rest of us."
The gas price situation isn't affecting everyone. Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Craig Morton says reservations for camp sites this summer are coming in above average here and at state parks across Ohio.
"I believe people will vacation close to home, possibly going to their own state parks," he says.
Higher gas prices the last year have led officials to shift funds to pay for fuel, he says. During the winter, showers and other buildings went unheated, security lights were turned off and other measures were taken to save money needed for transportation costs, Morton says.
Donna Grube, director of the Auglaize-Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau, says area tourism should be OK this summer because the population that visits Grand Lake drives just two hours or less to get here.
"'Short Drive-Complete Change of Scene' is how I sell our area at the travel shows," Grube says. "You can spend a couple of days here very inexpensively and still have a really good time."
Grube says the topic of high gas prices was heard often at the shows this spring. But she has more fear of the overall crippling economy right now than steep gas prices.
"Folks who have lost a job or folks afraid they may lose their job are much less likely to spend anything on travel than someone grumbling about high gas prices," she adds.
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