by Zachary Pena, staff reporter
Rising gas prices have some DeWitt residents going green by purchasing new, fuel-efficient cars. Meanwhile, their neighbors are going green in the face with jealousy.
A sporadic oil industry and an even more sporadic American economy have sent gas prices to heights they haven’t gone before. The ever-increasing cost of getting around has caused a change in how some DeWitt residents commute to their jobs.
Resident Sean Bengston who fills up his tank at the Speedway gas station at 13155 Old US 27 in DeWitt. Bengston said he recently decided to sell the car he’d owned for years – a 1974 Dodge Dart – and start a lease on a Chevrolet Volt to take advantage of its fuel efficiency.
“Gas was really starting to kill me,” he said. “I was filling up my Dart three times a week and as soon as it started cutting into my savings, I knew it was time to give up my baby and switch over.”
As for his neighbor, Sarah Slomkowski, a fuel-efficient vehicle isn’t in the cards right now.
“I wish I had some money saved up somewhere – I just won’t get enough to buy anything new if I trade in my mini van,” Slomkowski said. “For now, I’ll just have to sit and be jealous of Sean’s new toy.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, there was a nearly 10 percent increase in the price of gas between January and February of 2013 – the largest seen since the early 2000s.
Kent Bower, professor of industrial organization and transportation economics at Michigan State University, said the factors affecting gasoline prices are as sporadic as how much we spend at the pump.
“Gas prices fluctuate for a number of different reasons,” he said. “Some of them have to do with production capacity, and some have to do with politics or even random events,” he said. “Look at Hurricane Katrina and the refineries affected by it – that left a huge shortage of gasoline, and prices rose as a result.”
He said any number of unfortunate episodes could impact oil prices overnight.
“If anything happens in the Middle East or anywhere we get our oil from, the price of oil could really go through the roof,” he said. “Let’s say a decent sized oil-tanker is overtaken by pirates – we, as consumers, are definitely going to be paying for that.”
However, Bower said the largest factor contributing to rising gas prices has to do with macroeconomics.
“When investors believe the economy is gaining momentum, they think gas prices are going to go up,” he said. “In their minds, he’s thinking that the supply of petroleum is fixed and therefore harder to ramp up in production capacity. So, prices are going to go up if economic growth is [predicted] to pick up.”
Bethany Slomkowski said the cost of gasoline is hurting her family in a few different ways.
“We had to sell our son’s car just to make end’s meet,” she said. “It’s just awful – he needs to be able to get around and gas prices just don’t allow that.”
Bower said he’s even switched from a gasoline-based car engine to an electric vehicle.
“It was tough to choose one of the new models, but I ended up trying out the Nissan Leaf,” he said. “I love it – the ability to leave your car plugged in overnight is amazing; reminds me of the little remote-controlled cars I used to play with – and it’s almost as cheap, too.”
DeWitt resident Matthew Holmes takes a different approach, and tries to leave his car in his garage as often as he can.
“It’s about two miles to work and back,” he said. “But, I’d rather get a good workout and bike it than pay whatever they’re charging at the pump any day.”
Holmes said he has more important things to spend his money on.
“My daughter’s getting ready to go off to college pretty soon here,” he said. “There’s no way I can deal with gas when I’m going to have to start paying for her tuition and books and everything else.”
Bower said complaints about gasoline prices are nothing new to him.
“We hear complaining and moaning about the price of gasoline so often,” said Bower. “I think it’s just a subject of conversation at this point – almost like Michigan’s weather.
Bengston said he’s sad that today’s price for a gallon of Speedway gas, $3.48, is considered “reasonable.”
“I know that I’ve been getting screwed on these prices for years,” he said. “I accepted it until just recently, but I realize that someone’s up in their corporate office making loads off of what we have to pay.”
Bower said oil companies often receive tax credits in their business.
“Congress has taken action in attempting to minimize profits of oil companies,” Bower said. “It never works because it’s just a quick reaction to the unanticipated profits they get when oil prices rise.”
Bower also said he believes gasoline and oil are economic need to be treated with extra caution, especially in the near future.
“It not only affects hundreds of thousands of people, but also the entire economy,” he said.