Gas Prices Drive Some to Reconsider Habits

In Depth

As gas prices soar to $3 per gallon, many Americans are beginning to examine their driving habits and make minor adjustments. Many drivers say they may be forced to make more drastic changes to how they work and play if prices go higher.

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RENEE MONTAGE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montage with Steve Inskeep. Chevron is the latest oil company to announce a sharp rise in quarterly profits. Today, the number two oil company reports net income of $4 billion, up 49 percent from the first quarter last year. Chevron's announcement follows similar reports this week from ExxonMobil and Conoco Phillips. In a moment we'll ask what the oil companies are doing with those profits. But first, as gas prices soar to $3.00 a gallon and higher in some places, many people are beginning to examine their driving habits and make minor adjustments to save a few bucks. With the gas price predicted to go even higher this summer, many drivers say they may be forced to make more drastic changes to how they work and play. From Chicago, NPRs David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, reporting: Move over soccer moms and little league dads. Hockey parents, like Tony Carlson(ph) of Crystal Lake, Illinois, say they have to drive much farther to get their kids to and from practices and games each week.

Mr. TONY CARLSON: About 40 miles each way, 80 miles. It's probably about $15 for gas for one night. It's ridiculous.

SCHAPER: Dropping his son off at practice at an ice rink complex in Bensenville, Illinois, Carlton says this is a trip he makes in his Mountaineer SUV at least five times a week. He says he also drives several times a year to Michigan, Ohio, or even Canada for games and tournaments because his son plays at an elite level for one of the top teams in the Midwest. But with gas prices as high as they are, Carlton says he's considering having his son skate at a rink closer to home.

Mr. CARLTON: It's crossing my mind daily about making this trip down. Yeah, it is.

SCHAPER: It's not just his son's hockey program. Carlton says he's thinking about changing.

Mr. CARLTON: I have small business, too, and I drive a Silverado three-quarter ton truck is my transportation and I'm thinking of getting rid of it and going--downsizing it to a small economical--like a Toyota or something like that.

SCHAPER: But hockey mom, Lisa Cromwhity(ph) says downsizing her vehicle isn't really an option.

Ms. LISA CROMWHITY : I drive a minivan. So--we do that because of the equipment and things that we need for the sports in which the girls are both in.

SCHAPER: So Cromwhity has begun carpooling with other families to games and practices. But it's not just shuttling your kids that's hitting her in the pocketbook. As a property manager for buildings scattered across the Chicago area, she say she spends much of her workday in the car.

Ms. CROMWHITY: I get reimbursed but it's not even remotely close to the amount that you put into your tank and what you do to your car.

SCHAPER: But Jim Warner(ph) says higher gas prices aren't really a concern for him. He takes the train to work and lives just 15 minutes from the rink.

Mr. JIM WARNER: We've kind of tailored our lifestyle and our kids' activity lifestyle towards being involved in programs that are as close to home as possible.

SCHAPER: But for those in the lower rungs of the economy who need their vehicles to make a living, rising gas prices can be devastating. On a day off from school, 15-year-old Omar Reyes(ph) spent the morning helping his dad pick scrap metal out of other people's garbage.

(Soundbite of metal chiming against pavement)

SCHAPER: At a Chicago scrap metal yard their pulling the twisted hunks of metal from the backs of their beat-up old gas guzzling Chevy pickup truck.

Mr. OMAR REYES: The gas price's so high that the job we're doing these is not even enough to pay for gas no more.

SCHAPER: And Fellos Piruv(ph) says the high gas prices have forced him to change how far he'll drive to search for scrap metal.

Mr. FELLOS PIRUV: Well, actually I used to go, you know, scrapping at nighttime, now I stopped the nighttime because I can't afford it. I just go early in the morning like 3:00, 4:00 in the morning. See, each neighborhood they have different days of garbage picking, you know. So, I eliminate maybe three, four neighborhoods because I can't afford it.

Unidentified Male #1: Is it harder to get by? Is it harder to make a living?

Mr. PRIUS: Big time, big time, big time. I'm behind my rent now almost 15 days now. I never been through that situation before, never.

SCHAPER: In rural Illinois the skyrocketing gas prices come at an equally bad time for farmers, many of whom are now spending most of their waking hours atop diesel guzzling tractors, tilling the soil and planting crop. On this farm in rural DeKalb County about 80 miles west of Chicago, Paul Taylor(ph) says he's cutting costs every way he can, like how he runs his tractor.

Mr. PAUL TAYLOR: We're running at higher gear, but we've got the tractor idled way down. And we're actually cutting our fuel consumption per acre probably by half as opposed to running the tractor wide open in a lower gear.

SCHAPER: Taylor says he's using his pickup truck less and the family car more for trips to the feed store and other places in town. And he says he makes those trips less frequently.

Mr. TAYLOR: We live 20 miles outside of town. Every place we go is a half our drive and now I know lots of folks in town drive that much, but we drive that much to go to any place. And so we've just learned to combine our trips much more, to save on mileage and save on fuel costs.

SCHAPER: If prices remain high, it could be a tipping point; not just for farmers like Taylor, but for Hockey Moms, commuters, and anyone else relying on their cars, each and every day.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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