Gas prices put pinch on local drivers

Gas prices have soared to record highs at a dizzying pace, but Floridians won’t be seeing relief at the pump anytime soon as the Legislature decided Wednesday not to suspend the state’s gas tax until October.

Prices in Gainesville went from $3.47 per gallon of regular unleaded on Feb. 7 to Thursday’s all-time high of $4.35, according to the AAA’s website.

“This is too crazy,” said Edgar Baez of Gainesville. “More gas, more money, it’s tough for everybody. It affects my pockets.”

Baez finished putting gas in his car as a Circle K employee walked up and put an “Out of Service” bag over the pump handle. It was the last pump still open at the NW 75th Street and West Newberry Road location. Every pump handle was covered.

Both Circle K and the Chevron across the street had their cheapest fuel at $4.29 per gallon for regular unleaded. The BP a block down the road was at $4.39.

Uber driver Donnie Floyd said the financial strain is becoming untenable.

“It’s getting to the point where I’m putting out more [on gas] than I’m making,” said Floyd, who travels from Cross City to Gainesville to work. “They jumped up the income, but that didn’t do anything, but just made it worse. They say everybody’s making $15 an hour now, but all the prices are going up so it’s like we’re back to making $5 an hour again. We can’t afford to drive anymore. How are we supposed to go out and work when we can’t afford to get to work?”

Gas prices have been on the rise since May 11, 2020, when prices were the lowest in over a decade at $1.82 per gallon, but the increases have come in chunks over the last two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and President Joe Biden’s Tuesday announcement to ban Russian oil imports to the U.S.

On Wednesday, the Florida Legislature voted to suspend the state’s 27-cent gas tax per gallon—but it won’t be until October. The reasoning, according to state lawmakers, is that October is one of the two months the state sees its fewest tourists. Critics noted it’s also the month before a statewide election.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, defended the move at a Wednesday press conference, saying the other low-tourist month in Florida is May, but since the state budget doesn’t take effect until July, October is the next logical month to suspend the state gas tax.

“We wanted to make sure that Floridians got the vast majority of the money that we would be doing through a tax-cut process and the two months that are the least in tourism are October and May,” said Simpson. “I think that’s a great opportunity. We don’t know if gas will be at $4.50 a gallon or $8 a gallon by then, but it’s certainly something that we believe most Floridians will agree with, and it’s something that’s important to all of us, not just the governor.” 

In November, Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a $1 billion gas tax relief plan and asked the state Legislature to waive the gas tax for six months.

According to GasBuddy.com, the cheapest prices in Alachua County are:

  • $4.09 at Circle K, 19531 NW US 441, High Springs
  • $4.19 at Love’s Travel Stop, 5615 SE US 301, Hawthorne
  • $4.19 at The Short Stop, 25610 NE 39th Ave., Gainesville
  • $4.19 at CITGO, 18501 NW County Road 236, High Springs
  • $4.19 at Shell, 7015 US 301, Hawthorne

On Thursday AAA released survey results showing 59 percent of Americans indicated they would make changes to their driving habits or lifestyle if the price of gas went over $4 per gallon, with the majority saying they would drive less.

The AAA survey said that 18- to 34-year-olds were more likely to consider carpooling and that people 35 and over said they would be combining trips and errands and reduce shopping or dining out.

Even with gas prices on the rise, AAA’s survey found that 52 percent of Americans still plan on taking a summer vacation, including 42 percent who said they would not change their travel plans regardless of gas prices.

AAA listed tips to help drivers ease the pain at the pump:

  • Keep your vehicle in top shape with routine inspections and make sure your tires are properly inflated. Underinflated tires are a drag on fuel economy.
  • Map your route before you go to minimize unnecessary turnarounds and backtracking. Avoid peak traffic times and, if possible, go to “one-stop shops” where you can do multiple tasks (banking, shopping, etc.).
  • Fuel economy peaks at around 50 miles per hour on most cars, then drops off as speeds increase. Reducing highway speeds by 5 to 10 mph can increase fuel economy by as much as 14 percent.
  • A car engine consumes one quarter to one-half gallon of fuel per hour when idling, but a warm engine only takes around 10 seconds worth of fuel to restart. Where safe to do so, shut off your engine if you will be stopped for more than a minute.
  • Use “fast pass” or “express” toll lanes to avoid unnecessary stops or slowdowns on the highway.
  • Only use premium gas in vehicles that recommend or require it. Paying for premium gas for a vehicle that takes regular is a waste of money and is of no benefit to the vehicle.
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