Gasoline prices sting US workers who depend on their cars

DETROIT (AP) — High gas prices have left Wallace Reid looking for a new career.

Reid, who drives for Uber and Lyft in New York, refuels his Lexus at least three times a week. He pays about $95 each time, about double what he paid last year. To make up for that, he drives more often, but also applies for other jobs that don’t require his car.

“It’s more hours, more stress,” he said. “New York City is not an easy city to work in and it affects our lives.”

Reid is not alone. Millions of Americans who depend on their cars for work are changing their habits, signing up for carpools or even leaving their cars behind for bicycles as gas prices have risen recently $5 a gallon for the first time ever. This week it averages $4.95 a gallon nationwide, up from $3.06 a gallon a year ago, according to AAA.

There may be some help on the way. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden asked Congress to: suspend federal gas taxes for three months, which would shave 18.4 cents a gallon off the price of gas. He also called on states to suspend their own gas taxes.

But in the meantime, gas is putting pressure on budgets.

Jace Shoemaker-Galloway worried about asking more for Paws and Whiskers Sitters, her pet sitting company in Macomb, Illinois. She visits 10 homes every day and fills her 2018 Mazda CX-3 almost every week. A recent fill up cost her nearly $50.

This month she finally acted. She contacted her customers and told them that she was removing the 10% discount she had always given to repeat customers.

Shoemaker-Galloway, who is also a children’s author, said her customers were understanding. But she worries that gas prices will cut her business in other ways.

“Costs don’t just affect my bottom line,” she said. “Because the price of everything is so expensive, people are… cutting back on non-essentialswhich means looking after animals and selling books.”

In a typical summer, Orvilia Nieto might do some traveling in the RV she lives in in Lytle, Texas. But that may not happen this year. She struggles to fill the tank of her 2008 Ford Expedition SUV so she can get to work at a TJ Maxx distribution center in San Antonio, about 20 miles away.

Nieto and her colleagues exchange tips on where gas is cheapest. She sometimes carpools or only half fills her tank, which still costs her over $50. But she feels happy. A handful of colleagues from her shift, which ends at 2.30 am, cycle home in the dark.

“It’s been a tough road,” she said. “If we lived in the city it would be easier. We could take the bus, but at the end of the shift at 2:30 am, what bus line is available?”

Jill Chapman, a senior performance consultant at Insperity, a Texas-based personnel and recruiting firm, said gas prices and travel times are increasingly becoming a sticking point for job applicants. Chapman said companies may consider temporary bonuses, public transportation incentives or gas cards to help their employees.

“A business owner needs to recognize that there is stress associated with rising gas prices,” Chapman said.

David Lewis, the CEO of Operations Inc., a Norwalk, Connecticut-based human resources consultancy, recalls handing out gas cards to his employees in 2009, when gas prices were above $4 a gallon. But this time he doesn’t because employees have another option: working from home.

“This is an undesirable development for those companies that are trying to get people back into the office,” Lewis said. “It’s another reasonable reason why those workers are cutting back.”

Lewis has approximately 100 employees in Norwalk. Before COVID, 85% of them were in the office at least two days a week. Now that’s maybe 25% of them. Lewis — and many of his clients — would like to see more employees in the office, but say gas prices are a huge barrier.

“If you’re the company that has to let everyone in all the time, you’re a pariah,” he said.

Psychology professor Brian Cesario used to live within walking distance of the university where he teaches. But last year he moved 55 miles to Hopewell Junction, New York so he could afford a bigger house for his growing family.

Cesario was teaching remotely before the pandemic and assumed he would continue to do so. But last fall, his college required him to drive to campus twice a week, a commute that now costs him $240 in gas a month. Cesario said he doesn’t earn enough to make up for that, so he’s looking for a remote job outside of academia.

For those who have to commute, there may be options. On Tuesday, Uber announced that it will be bringing discounted rides back to nine US cities this summer, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Organizations that connect carpoolers — such as one run by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments in the Detroit area — say they’re seeing significantly more participants.

Some even find solutions in their own garage. Pame Viens and her husband — both histotechnologists who prepare tissue in medical facilities — switched vehicles because his commute is longer. Now he drives her 2016 Volkswagen Passat and she drives his 2022 Dodge Ram.

“I’m only 1.85m.” I bumped my forehead against the side mirror,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m getting used to it.”

But others say they just have to work harder. Brian Scheall, an Uber driver in Tampa, Florida, pays $75 every time he fills up his Volkswagen Atlas.

“You can make money, but you have to work, work, work,” Scheall said. He recently took a side job transporting a few clients from Florida to Virginia for some extra cash.

Uber says it understands drivers are taking the brunt of high gasoline prices and added a 45 to 55 cent surcharge to all journeys in March to soften the blow. But both Reid and Scheall say gig companies should be doing a lot more.

“It doesn’t matter at all. It’s like a grain of sand,” Reid said of the surcharge.

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