From moms to taxi drivers, gas price spike pierces pocketbooks, paychecks
PITTSFIELD -- Candy Puia of Pittsfield has three children. She's constantly on the move, transporting them to activities like band practice and athletic events.
"Crazy" is how Puia put it.
But Puia's not referring to her daily itinerary. She's reacting to the increase in state gas prices this week, which added an additional expense to her already hectic travel schedule.
Recent increases in the price of crude oil helped gasoline prices in Massachusetts jump 14 cents this week, to an average of $3.59 for a gallon of regular unleaded, according to AAA Southern New England.
The last time an increase of this magnitude occurred was in 2011 when the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded in Massachusetts went up 17 cents between Feb. 21-28 and 16 cents between April 18-25.
This week's jump, compiled with last week's three-cent increase, has driven the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded in Massachusetts up 17 cents over the last two weeks, according to AAA.
The current price is seven cents higher than the national average of $3.52 per gallon, according to AAA Southern New England. It's also 10 cents higher than the state average was at this time last year.
AAA Southern New England spokeswoman Mary McGuire said a number of factors have caused the price of crude oil to rise to more than $96 a barrel.
"The continued tensions in the Middle East, including the murder in Turkey, the unrest in Syria, tensions between the U.S. and Iran and also the protests in Egypt," McGuire said. "Whenever there is political turmoil or unrest in the Middle East, it brings up the price of crude.
"The fear is that there won't be enough oil produced, and investors tend to place a high value on oil," she added.
There was also unrest in the Middle East when gas prices jumped significantly two years ago, McGuire said.
In New England and the rest of the East Coast, oil production still hasn't recovered from Hurricane Sandy.
"Last week, a refinery closed in New Jersey," McGuire said.
In Pittsfield on Monday, several gas stations were offering a gallon of regular unleaded at prices that were higher than the state average, according to Massachusettsgasprices.com. Twelve of the 16 stations listed on the website were selling a gallon of regular between $3.63 and $3.73 per gallon. The range of prices in the latest AAA survey for unleaded regular is 30 cents, from a low of $3.49 per gallon to a high of $3.79.
Jim Regan, the general manager of Rainbow Taxi in Pittsfield, said the rise in gas prices is particularly hard on the company's cab drivers who, as independent contractors, are required to pay for their own fuel.
"They do as many calls as they did before," Regan said. "But from what they collect, their paycheck is shorter, because they're paying more for fuel."
Pittsfield's taxi fare, which is set by the city, is $2.50 to procure a cab, plus an additional 30 cents for each eighth of a mile, according to Regan. If gas prices continue to rise, Regan said Rainbow Taxi may have to ask the city to increase the rate.
"If it stays up for the next month or so, we would have to do something because we have to help our drivers out," Regan said. "The driver won't stay on the road if he can't make money."
The rise in gas prices also affects Rainbow's other vehicle services which include wheelchair vans and medical sedans.
"With the other businesses, it affects the bottom line," Regan said. "We bid for state contracts, and some of them we bid five years ago. There's no increase for anything. Pretty much, you deal with it."
While waiting for gas at the Sunoco station on Center Street, Lorraine Jones of Pittsfield said she tries to does cut back on her driving when gas prices go up.
"You try and drive less and walk more," she said. "But it's tough this time of the year because it's so cold."
Puia said it normally costs her between $80 and $85 to fill up her sports utility vehicle. On Monday, she planned to purchase $50 worth of gas.
"It's not a good time to be on empty," she said.
By the numbers
Here are the average state gasoline prices (and price ranges) for a gallon of self-serve fuel:
Regular unleaded: $3.59 per gallon ($3.49-$3.79)
Midgrade unleaded: $3.79 ($3.59-$3.99)
Premium unleaded: $3.90 ($3.69-$4.29)
Diesel: $4.09 ($3.95-$4.39)
Prices as of Monday. Source: AAA Southern New England.
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