2006-04-27 / News

Jamestowners talk about the pain at the gas pumps

By Sam Bari

The latest news concerning the steep rise in gasoline prices is dismal. News reports blame the gas price escalation on the high cost and limited availability of ethanol, an additive now required to reduce pollution. Unreliable supplies of sweet crude from oil-rich countries also play a role in the sharp spikes at the pump.

Do people believe this, and how is the situation affecting their daily lives? Here's what Jamestowners have to say:

Steve Kennedy, a longtime Jamestown resident and North Kingstown manufacturer, thinks the price will probably continue to rise and fall, then level out around three dollars a gallon until the end of summer. "Then we might get a little relief. I don't think we'll ever see two dollars again, but there's a chance we'll see two-fifty," Kennedy said.

"Why the cost of fuel is rising so dramatically doesn't have a simplistic answer," he continued. "It's a very complex problem with many contributing factors. One of the biggest reasons is that America is no longer the only attractive customer. The demand for oil in Asia, particularly in China, is tremendous. Emerging economies in other parts of the world have the ability to pay, and this is driving the price in a supply and demand economy. The political instability in oil-producing regions drives the price up further by injecting fear of a production slow-down and causing even more supply problems.

"My family is making compensating adjustments in lifestyle to make the prices more bearable. We're running errands more efficiently with fewer trips to the store, and I ride my Moped whenever possible. I like to fish offshore in my diesel-powered fishing boat, but this summer those trips are going to be less frequent and shorter," Kennedy added.

Diane Herron, a pharmaceutical consultant and Jamestown resident believes pricegouging is the largest contributing factor. "It's obvious that the oil companies are taking advantage of the situation. How else would they make the record-making profits that you read and hear about every day? I believe that price-gouging and political alliances with certain countries in the Middle East that are a little too cozy are the responsible factors for these out-of-control prices. We live in a free-enterprise society. The oil companies apparently have the right to charge whatever they want because gouging is difficult to prove. So, they do it because they can," Herron said.

"The high prices adversely affect everyone. My job requires extensive travel, and I enjoy driving to my other home in Vermont on weekends. I am fortunate to have the wherewithal to weather the storm. Many people can't. I don't shop for low prices because I think they are pretty much the same within a few pennies in any given region. I just "bite the bullet" and hope for the best. As difficult as it is, Americans will adjust. We're tough. Besides, we have no choice," she concluded.

Chris Carroll, an executive for a computer software company, sees possible profiteering and political maneuvering as the culprits for the fuel dilemma. "It appears to be the popular reasoning that the media presents," Carroll said. "But you never know. There could be a lot going on in the background that is kept from the public. With so many varying opinions, it's difficult to tell fact from fiction. My job takes me all over the world. For years, people in Europe have been paying much higher prices than we're paying now. I've seen it firsthand. America is just getting a wake-up call.

"It hasn't really had a direct affect on my life, at least not yet. However, I am aware that it could, and my wife and I are starting to plan our driving more efficiently. We're giving more thought to the way we run our weekly errands and try not to make unnecessary trips to the store - things like that. Whatever happens, I'm sure we'll survive. It isn't the first gas crunch we've been through, and I'm sure won't be the last," he said.

Susan Sterling, an executive for Chanel, believes we should have been better prepared for escalating prices. "It had to come sooner or later," Sterling said. "The rest of the world pays much higher prices for fuel. Why should we be any different?

"My work takes me to Europe as well as the Far East, and in some places, they pay twice as much as we're paying now. I just think it's unconscionable that automobile manufacturers and our government haven't taken steps to explore alternative fuel sources before now. Hybrid cars only recently hit the market, and the average person can't afford to buy one. Most are over $50,000, about the price of a luxury automobile. If car companies started manufacturing them 10 years ago, the price would probably be affordable for the average family by now.

"The price of fuel has definitely affected my life. I work in New York and live in Jamestown. I drive home on the weekends. I drive a fuel-efficient car, and have done so for years. I'm lucky to be able to afford my lifestyle, but it isn't easy," she said.

John Russo, a Seaside Drive resident, is feeling the crunch in business. "I'm not sure what all the reasons are for the sudden increases. I think it's a complicated issue. But I've seen it coming for quite a while. I'm in the ice cream business. I sell gelato imported from Italy. Shipping costs increase every day. I have to be careful about increasing prices to distributors because they have to charge surcharges to restaurants as it is. Any product can be priced out of the market if it is too high. Manufacturers have to be careful. There's only so much that the consumer has to spend. When restaurants feel too much of a crunch, they start changing their menus. They have to survive. Profits in the food business are measured in pennies, so there isn't much room to maneuver," Russo said.

"It hasn't affected my personal life yet, but it has made me aware that it could. I compare prices, but don't go out looking for cheap gas. I think the prices are relatively the same within a few cents. If we're careful, we'll survive this the same as we survived other fuel shortages and price hikes," he said.

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