Photo by Leo Rommel
|Gas prices, such as these at a BP station in Hillsborough, climbed last month.|
Rising Gas Prices Fuel Commuters' Anger
By Leo Rommel
With the way gas prices are nowadays, it’s a good thing Al Swensen’s position on campus is only part-time. Otherwise, he says, he would not be here.
“I drive seventy miles round-trip for work,” explains Swensen, 66, a seven-year security officer most commonly found at the front lobby of the first floor of Somerset Hall. “That’s $47 for a full tank, for both me and my wife. She works in Flemington. We each burn about three and a half gallons of gas every time we go to work.
“If I worked full-time, I would look elsewhere for employment, someplace closer to home.”
Swensen, who lives with his wife in Palmer, Pennsylvania (west of Phillipsburg), acknowledges that the gas hikes that rocked the summer months and early school year have largely impacted his life and budget. He now takes noticeably few trips than he did before. He hardly sees his relatives, takes fewer trips to the supermarket and – aside from work – never leaves his home state.
“I used to play golf in New Jersey, used to love it,” says Swensen. “Not anymore. I play golf in Pennsylvania now. It’s the not same, but it’s certainly cheaper.”
Security officers are not the only ones feeling the crunch. Many of the students attending Raritan Valley Community College are also feeling the effects of a surge in gas prices that hardly seems to let up.
“Those gas prices are outrageous,” exclaims John Stevens, 19, a sophomore at RVCC. “During the summer, when the weather was its warmest and the prices were at its peak, I used to drive around with the windows down, with no air conditioner, and let myself bake in the heat.
“I would do any little thing to save gas.”
The ultimate way to save gas, of course, is to simply not drive. But at a commuter school such as RVCC, such an alternative is seemingly not available. Students generally feel that the whole ordeal is beyond their control. They have to pay up, or else.
“Honestly, I didn’t think much of it,” says Manny Vazquez, 22. “Yes, it stinks, but what are you going to do about it? You have to drive. So you pay, no matter how expensive it is.”
With the rise in fuel costs, logic would suggest that many students would discontinue their driving routine and chose an alternate, less expensive method to get to class. However, that has not been the case. According to Ronald Cohn, general manager of Suburban Transit, bus usage at the college has not increased. That comes as no surprise, given the fact that bus services at RVCC was never popular.
“Bus service around here is so sporadic, so pathetic, that so few use it,” says Dan Aronson, an associate professor of economics at RVCC, who has ridden the bus to and from campus on a number of occasions. “The bus wasn’t so empty the other day ... but overall, I have not seen an increase in passengers this semester.”
Maybe the gas prices are not such a dread for commuters after all, or, at least, not all commuters. Some students hint that the cost swell have not affected them. Instead, it has affected their parents.
“My parents pay for my gas,” says Danielle Daliani, 18, a nursing major at RVCC. “They really carry the financial load for that, so I don’t have to decrease my spending on anything else. I still shop at my favorite stores and I still get to keep the bulk of the money I make at work.”
In fact, a surprising amount of students, particularly those just beginning their colligate career here at RVCC, are often offered parental assistance when paying for fuel. This luxury allows these students to live their lives just as they always have, without tightening their budget, or, at least, without having to set aside thirty or more dollars each week to fill up the tank. Still, by and large, most
at the college feel the crunch of gas money, some more than others. In fact, the majority of these students have had the misfortune of reorganizing their budget to accommodate the price surge.
“I used to buy gas with my credit card, but with the prices the way they are, I use cash now,” says Lancelot Shablesky, 22. “Why? Because the high costs maxed out my card.
“For most of the summer, I tried saving up for a tattoo. I’d try my very best to stockpile some cash, but it’d never work out. Something always went wrong. My money always went to gas. I can afford to get one now, but it took me quite a bit of time.”
“It’s preposterous,” says Corinne Daly, 18. “I pay for my own gas, and thus, I spend far less on everything else, particularly clothes.”
Most students say that they drive as little as possible nowadays. Instead of driving to every place, they walk or ride their bike if the distance is not too far. They carpool more. They even tend not to go to a certain place unless they really have to.
The latter is emphasized more clearly during lunch time. As an alternative for traveling off campus, more and more students appear to be staying on campus for their lunch break, saving gas money.
“The first two weeks showed a rush of students in the cafeteria,” explains Abir Roychoudhury, who works inside the college’s main cafeteria. “Sales have increased in comparison to previous semesters.”
Well, at least something good is coming of this mess. Not much has otherwise.