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Gas prices strangling Southern Crescent

By Michael Davis

When Eddie Robinson pulls out onto the road in his company's only cab, he's not thinking about today's high gas prices as much as he would had he not already had a guaranteed fare.

Robinson, proprietor of Clayton Henry Taxi Service, usually makes runs back and forth from the Stockbridge area to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for a list of usual clients. He's not thinking too much about high prices at the pump, yet.

"But if I had to run out there and look for trips it would be a different thing," Robinson said. "You could burn up more gas looking for trips than it's probably worth."

This week, prices on the east coast of the U.S. for regular gasoline were up nearly 5 cents from the week before, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration. This continues a trend that saw crude oil prices peak April 1 but slide by 9 percent by April 12, according to the Administration.

Prices at the pump, however, are up nearly 50 cents over last year's prices the same week and the EIA forecasts crude oil prices to remain above $50 per barrel for the rest of 2005 and 2006, according to an April 13 report titled "This Week in Petroleum."

Around south metro Atlanta, heavily dependent on automobile transportation, the pump-prices are starting to pinch those who depend on gas to work.

Retiree Grover Cole Sr., whose son owns a lawn care and maintenance business in Stockbridge where he helps out from time to time, said the gas prices are affecting what the business has to charge for service. With clients as far away as Norcross and Snellville, Cole said some clients balk at paying a higher rate to compensate for the expense of getting to the job site.

"We try to keep it at a minimum but with customers 15 to 20 miles away, you can't do it," he said, adding the business has lost some clients.

"They wouldn't allow us to go up and we couldn't afford to do the job for nothing," he said.

As prices remain above $2 per gallon, interest is also increasing in alternative fuel cars.

Steve Crane, the general manager of Toyota South in Morrow, reports selling all the Toyota Prius hybrid gas-electric cars he can get on his lot.

"The Prius has been a real high-interest (vehicle) for a long time, but as the gas went higher, more people are inquiring about it and we're selling more," Crane said.

Soaring gas prices are also beginning to affect employers' ability to create and maintain new jobs, according to state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond.

Thurmond points to the increase in fuel prices lately and the corresponding rise in the state unemployment rate. The clearest example, he said, is Delta Air Lines.

"They can't really raise ticket prices because of the competition of the regional carriers," Thurmond said. "But that's also true of the pizza delivery guy," he added. "How much can you raise prices without it having a corresponding impact on your ability to generate new clients?"

Also, because workers, especially in the metro Atlanta area which has one of the longest average commute times in the nation, spend more money on getting to work, "Disposable income has just evaporated," he said.

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On the net:

Energy Information Administration

http://www.eia.doe.gov