ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
San Francisco is about to become the first major American city to average more that $4 for a gallon of gasoline. Right now, the official city average for a gallon self-serve, regular, unleaded hovers and $3.97, but many San Francisco gas stations are already charging more than $4 a gallon. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports - as you can imagine - Bay Area motorists aren't happy.
RICHARD GONZALES: There are two gas stations and the corner of 17th and Portrero(ph) in San Francisco's south of market neighborhood, so motorists do have a choice. They can pay $4.07 at this Shell station or a penny less per gallon across the street.
Ms. CHARLOTTE EMPI(ph): It's hared to believe it's over four.
GONZALES: The price makes Charlotte Empi wince.
Ms. EMPI: I hate it. I wish I had a Prius.
GONZALES: Does it change your driving habits at all?
Ms. EMPI: I probably try to combine trips more, lessen my commute as much as I can.
GONZALES: At another pump, John Plax(ph) says the gas prices encouraged him to leave his big Infinity at home while he and his wife get by with her VW Jetta.
Mr. JOHN PLAX: You know, actually we've been trying to minimize our driving for a long time - so we try to be more conscious about the environment for a long time and try to use public transit whenever we can. We're actually moving to a new home that's closer - right on the MUNI line, and one thing we like about that is access to public transit. It's a big deal for us.
GONZALES: In fact, people are using public transit more. Ridership on the regional transit lines, such as BART CalTrain is rising, but there are plenty of people who don't have a choice but to drive.
Mr. GREGG GOEBEL (San Francisco Cab Driver): Take a cab and make the cab driver pay for the gas.
GONZALES: Take San Francisco cab driver Gregg Goebel. He pays $100 a day to lease his red and yellow Crown Victoria. It gets about 12 to 15 miles to the gallon and it costs him an average of $50 per day for gas.
Mr. GOEBEL: I'm less willing ride for an order and I'm more willing to sit in a hotel line or a airport line, and count myself as having a good day if I spent less money on gas. Well if you do that, you're taking care of less people who live in the city. And you're not going to go out of your way to take care of somebody.
GONZALES: So what keeps him in the cab business? For one, flexible hours - means he's available to his 10-year-old daughter, and, he likes the work.
Mr. GOEBEL: Driving daytime, you're dealing with a lot of our seniors and our elders in this city. I help them to the door and I help them to the cab and they just think it's the greatest thing. And that's worth more than money to me.
GONZALES: Economists who study driver's responses to gas prices say, over the short run, consumers don't really change their driving habits. Chris Knittle(ph), and economist at UC Davis says Californians, like most Americans, are locked in their cars.
Mr. CHRIS KNITTLE (Economist, U of C Davis): That might be suburban sprawl, which puts us farther away from our jobs. The increase in two income earning families - where now we have two people driving to work instead of one. What I like to call the soccer mom effect - which is we… Rightly so, we feel that we have to drive our kids to more places than we used to.
GONZALES: It's not unusual for California to lead the nation in gasoline prices, but motorists here are already bracing for another milestone as the price of oil continues to soar. All of which leads cabbie Gregg Goebel to one conclusion.
Mr. GOEBEL: I tell ya, you know - we're heading towards five. It's just crazy. Hopefully gas will become a thing of the past.
GONZALES: Until then, California drivers are stuck shelling out at the pump and motorists across the country can get what may be a preview of prices in their future.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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