Self-service surprise

Joel Montes de Oca fills up the gas tank of his Ford F150 at the BP gas station on SW Williston Road and Interstate 75 on Monday.

TRICIA COYNE/ Special to The Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 30, 2006 at 10:52 p.m.
The average price of gas in Florida has climbed 16.5 cents since Christmas, according to AAA.
Michael Ward, 21, has noticed the difference.
Ward, a student at the University of Florida, said he can't bear paying the $40 to $50 it costs to fill up his Dodge pickup these days.
"I usually stop for gas when I'm still a quarter-tank full, or I don't fill up all the way if I'm empty," said Ward, who bought just $32 of gas on Monday at BP Gainesville on Williston Road. "Filling up all the way at one time is too painful."
The average price of self-serve regular gas in Gainesville rose to $2.45 on Monday, according to AAA.
It's not as bad as on Oct. 6, when Gainesville saw a record-high average price of $3.06, said Randy Bly, a spokesman for AAA. But the increase comes at a time when gas prices should be falling, he said.
"We were somewhat taken aback," Bly said. "Normally, what we see after a very busy holiday travel season is demand dropping off. Unfortunately, this year, we're seeing just the opposite."
After Hurricane Katrina hit in August, some experts said gas prices could stay above $3 for months.
Prices in Florida actually started to fall in the middle of October, Bly said, but they didn't stay low for long. By Dec. 5, he said, they started rising again.
Bly said he anticipates more increases in the spring, when Florida gas prices traditionally spike because of increased demand caused by Spring Breakers and other tourists.
"There's a lot going on, and none of it really looks good for gas at the retail level," said Bly, who attributed the recent increase to rising costs for crude oil and to instability in foreign markets. "For the foreseeable future, I think prices are going to stay above average."
Rising energy costs have led to increases in everything from interest in hybrid cars to local utility rates.
Gainesville Regional Utilities has increased its electric rates four times in recent months, boosting monthly bills by $16.
Tourism officials in the state have said they're worried that steep gas prices could discourage people from traveling to Florida this year. Bly said while history shows people don't skip vacations because of gas prices, they often take abbreviated trips closer to home.
"In years past, we usually did not see much of a change in the pattern of people taking trips," Bly said. "But we're kind of in uncharted territory dealing with high crude oil prices and seeing gas over the $2 mark - this is all new. Overall, I think people will still take those vacations. But I think they will compensate by cutting back in other areas."
Several customers who stopped at BP Gainesville on Williston Road Monday said they've done just that.
Keawin Sarjeant , 28, a UF graduate student studying animal science, said he's avoided turning on his heater and air conditioner to balance the increased cost of filling up his 1994 Acura Integra.
Warren Marshall, 54, who owns Marshall Electric in Archer, said he's been avoiding extra trips in his truck, and that two of his employees have started carpooling to work.
And Frank Ghali, who owns the gas station, has started requiring customers to pay before they fill up.
"I used to not have people pre-pay," Ghali said. "But with prices going up, I can't. I get too many drive-offs."
UF economist David Denslow said minor adjustments could affect the economy as a whole.
"By itself, I don't think the increase in gas prices will have a large impact on other spending," Denslow said. "What's happening, of course, is that with utility bills a little higher and insurance bills a little higher because of the hurricanes last year, the combined effect could reduce spending on everything from furniture to taking a weekend trip."
But Denslow said he wouldn't expect recent price increases to spur a recession.
"The impact on the overall economy is not a problem if gas prices stay at their current level, and if nothing else bad hits us," Denslow said. "If the increase occurs at the same time as a drop in the stock market or housing market, the impact on the overall economy could be painful."
At least one driver who filled up on Monday wasn't scared off by the steeper gas prices.
As she fueled her 1993 Chrysler LeBaron, Marie Wallace, 47, said she's made no changes to her routine to compensate for higher gas prices.
In fact, Wallace said, she's shopping for an SUV.
"Who hasn't noticed the prices?" Wallace said. "But, honestly, you have to buy gas no matter how much it costs. I haven't changed anything at all."
Amy Reinink can be reached at 352-374-5088 or

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