Gas prices have drivers pumped up

By Justin Boron

Judson Powell grabbed about five more miles per gallon when he gave up his Ford Explorer for a more fuel efficient mini-van.

Even still, he said the extra gas mileage hasn't helped much given the recent spike in oil prices, which has raised the cost of regular gas 42 cents above the rates at this time last year, according to www.atlantagasprices.com.

"Gas prices are ridiculous considering only a couple months ago, stations around here were around $1.57," said Powell, 42, of Riverdale.

Powell's car swap is evident of a consumer group looking for small ways to bear the brunt of rising fuel costs but more or less dead set on its current driving habits, analysts and consumer groups say.

Drivers may be moving away from gas guzzlers but not too far.

John Felmy, the chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute, said the sale of larger SUVs has dropped off since January.

By in large though, they are unwilling to make the full sacrifice of their roomy interiors, taking a single step down toward smaller combinations of mini-vans and SUVs, he said.

Small adjustments in equipment and behavior have not been enough to hamper gasoline demand completely, which continues to recover from a decline in the bad weather winter months along side the sharp escalation in the price of crude oil, Felmy said.

Caused mostly by massive consumption in China, now the world's second thirstiest oil consumer, per barrel prices in the mid-fifties have shoved national gasoline price averages to record highs at $2.10 per gallon, said Ric Cobb, the executive director of the Georgia Petroleum Council.

The metro Atlanta average on Monday was just under $2, according www.atlantagasprices.com.

Some locations in Clayton County had prices as high as $2.19, one of the highest in the Atlanta region.

However, the price surge in the last two weeks has had little effect on spring and summer driving plans, said Lisa Weaver, the Morrow division manager for AAA Auto Club South.

She said the consumer group received 66 more driving requests for the month to date than last year when the regular gas prices were in the $1.50 to $1.60 range.

In line with road travel plans, tourism in the county should not be affected by gas prices, said Stacey Dickson, the executive director of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Every year we kind of go through the same thing in spring," she said.

Looming oil prices are purported to be threatening the success of the summer travel season, Dickson said.

But in the end, when put in the perspective a total trip's cost, $50 doesn't seem that much of a difference, and people travel anyway, she said.

One area that is facing a surefire financial burden is the county government, which expects to encumber an extra $150,000 to $180,000 in additional fuel costs, said Suzanne Brown, the county public information officer.

"It's going to hit us pretty hard," she said.

The following are some suggestions of ways to cut down fuel costs, according to www.atlantagasprices.com

é Avoid high speeds

é Do not accelerate or break hard

é Keep tires properly inflated

é Use air conditioning sparingly

é Avoid heavy loads

é Avoid long idles