It may come as no major surprise to many, but the commodity roller-coaster known as gasoline prices is pushing skyward once again.
The cost of regular unleaded was averaging just over $3.40 per gallon Monday in Columbus, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. That’s nearly 12 cents per gallon higher than a week ago and 18 cents more expensive than one year ago.
“This upward trend has occurred during the past two years and will likely happen again this year as demand for crude oil increases across the globe and geopolitical tensions remain,” AAA Auto Club Group spokeswoman Jessica Brady said in her weekly fuel price brief.
She noted the price per barrel of oil had topped $100 for more than two weeks, while the civil unrest in Egypt and “positive” news on the economic front all contributed to the jump at the pump.
Across Columbus, the price of a gallon of gas ranged from just under $3.30 per gallon closer to Fort Benning to a high of $3.55 per gallon from St. Marys Road north to Warm Springs Road, according to GasBuddy.com. The most common price was $3.39 per gallon.
The hit to the pocketbook comes with many consumers looking to hit the road for a much-needed vacation. Prices were pushing $3.65 per gallon in the Florida beach town of Destin, according to GasBuddy.com, and $3.70 a gallon in Panama City Beach, Fla. They were still mostly under $3.40 per gallon in the popular Great Smoky Mountains gateway town of Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
But for those of us left behind to earn a living — and run a business — the surging cost of gasoline certainly isn’t welcome news.
“That can sting us pretty good with the driving that we do,” Energy Savers of Georgia and Alabama President Bill Bell said Monday when told some experts are projecting gas could reach the neighborhood of $3.75 per gallon before slipping lower in September.
Bell said his 25 vans only get about 9 miles per gallon when fully loaded, with heating and air conditioning installers running about 15,000 miles a year and service vans racking up 25,000 miles annually. Crews work a 50-mile radius around the company’s offices in Columbus and Opelika, Ala.
Still, he said the company hasn’t raised its hourly rates for a number of years. Part of it is the need to stay competitive in a market that has about 60 contractors also doing heating and air work.
“We’ve seen it go over $4 before, but we’ve never had a surcharge,” he said of gas price spikes in recent years. “It’s always just been a matter of it cutting into our margins whenever those times are hitting. But we never as a company felt the need to hand it back to the customers, not as of yet.”
Then there are companies such as Groome Transportation, which runs 36 trips a day between Columbus and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. That doesn’t include some driving throughout Columbus to pick up and drop off residents at their homes for their airport journeys.
But Groome does have a bit of an edge when it comes to back-and-forth shuttling of residents the 91 miles between here and Atlanta.
“Our vehicles all run on propane. We don’t use gas at all. So that doesn’t affect us,” Groome operations manager Jeff Weynand said of the oil and gasoline price swings. The company switched to propane last October.
“It’s a little cheaper,” he said. “But that’s not the primary reasons for it ... it’s about going green.”
There are more than 270,000 propane-powered vehicles on the road today, according to the Propane Education and Research Council. Most of them are fleet vehicles such as police cars, school buses and shuttles like those used by Groome.
Propane vehicles typically emit less harmful pollutants into the air than gas-powered engines and are easier on the wallet to maintain, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. There are other advantages.
“Propane’s high octane rating (104 to 112 compared with 87 to 92 for gasoline) and low carbon and oil contamination characteristics have resulted in documented engine life of up to two times that of gasoline engines,” the center said. “Because the fuel’s mixture (propane and air) is completely gaseous, cold start problems associated with liquid fuel are reduced.”
That’s something to think about should a gallon of regular unleaded gas approach its Columbus all-time high of just under $4.21 a gallon, according to AAA. That occurred on Sept. 15, 2008. Two months before that, diesel hit its local record high of $4.84 per gallon.