Elm City feels impact of elevated gas prices

From businessmen on bicycles, to customers waiting in long lines at gas stations, to landscapers filling extra tanks of gas for their lawnmowers at station pumps, it seems few members of the New Haven community can entirely escape the effects of rapidly escalating fuel prices on their daily lives.

Hurricane Katrina’s mauling of oil refineries in the affected areas has severely limited America’s ability to refine crude oil into gasoline. The shortage of refined gas has raised the average price of gasoline in New Haven as well as in the rest of the country. The national average as of Tuesday night was $3.041 per gallon, according to the American Automobile Association’s Daily Fuel Gage Report Web site, while consumers in downtown New Haven yesterday were paying between $3.22 and $3.24 for their gas.

Many students and community members said they have begun to adjust their driving and spending habits accordingly.

“I haven’t been driving very much,” Goran Lynch ’06 said. “And when I have driven people, I’ve asked for gas money that I normally wouldn’t have before.”

Lynch said he still intends to use his Jeep this semester for important travel, though he noted that the price of gasoline was becoming excessive.

“Four dollar gas is crazy,” he said. “I remember when two dollar gas was [expensive].”

While undergraduates may not need their cars to handle daily affairs, some other members of the Yale community must make fundamental changes to their schedule. Gretchen Eames, the wife of Marc Eames DIV ’07, said that while she takes the train to work, her husband has been trying to cut back on car use.

“Mark has been riding his bike more,” she said. “He’s doing an internship in Hartford two days a week this semester, so it’s going to be rather hard on the budget.”

Eames said she and her husband were already cutting back on their spending, and that her husband might have to take more student loans to counter the higher cost of gasoline. But even individuals with more financial security have taken Eames’ husband’s route, riding bikes in order to conserve cash.

“I went out this afternoon, and I did happen to notice more people riding bicycles, and I don’t think that many of them looked like the kind of people that would normally ride bicycles,” said Shirley Gilman, a resident of Woodbridge, Conn. “A couple of them looked like businesspeople.”

Yet as price-conscious Americans take to their bikes and to public transportation to escape the increasing financial burden of driving, some, like Eames, wonder if the price increases are such a bad thing after all.

“I think that in the long run, this could have positive ramifications, if we pay more attention to conservation, smaller vehicles, and public transportation,” she said. “But in the short term, it really puts a squeeze on those of us on a budget.”

Some community members from abroad say they are less affected by the price increase than Americans are. Ingeborg Taarup, the wife of astronomy post-doctoral associate Sune Toft, said she felt the price increase was more of a normalization.

“I think gas prices in this country are ridiculously low,” she said. “I’m from Denmark, and we pay actually as much for a liter as you [did before Katrina] for a gallon. … It just seems like it’s a big deal for the Americans to have very cheap oil and gas.”

Taarup cautioned that her husband, who fills the tank, has a more negative opinion of the recent increases. But some students who have cars on campus said that they too feel higher gas prices need to be taken in context.

“It sucks because [the price of gas] is so high, but relative to the rest of the world it’s still pretty low,” said Marc Florman ’07. “You can’t go having cheap gas, fighting foreign wars, and dealing with natural disasters at the same time.”

But Florman acknowledged that, since he owns a hybrid vehicle, the gas pinch affected him less than it did people who drive comparatively inefficient gasoline-fueled cars.

“I drive a Prius,” he said, shrugging.

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