Pump prices fuel growing motorists' concerns by M. Jill Karolevitz From tourists to transport drivers, motorists are hoping the law of gravity � what goes up must come down � applies to fuel prices at the pump.
According to AAA South Dakota, gasoline prices in South Dakota have continued to increase steadily over the past month. The current statewide average is at $1.5656, which is 16.21 cents higher than one month ago, and is 49.3 cents higher than a year ago
AAA�s March Fuel Gauge Survey, taken March 14, shows the national average price of self-serve unleaded gasoline is $1.5425 per gallon, which is 57.3 cents higher than a year ago, when prices averaged $.97 per gallon nationally.
Gas station owners and managers in Vermillion say some of their customers aren�t complaining about the high prices, but they add that no one is very happy about the situation, and they�ve been hearing about it.
�We�ve gotten a lot of complaints � people think the prices are outrageous,� said Tonya Haukaas, manager of Shop EZ. �I�m not happy about it either, but there isn�t much I can do about it. Business in the store is good, but a lot of people are looking for the cheapest gas they can get, and that�s where they go.�
Local station operators determine their prices taking several factors into consideration � by what they pay for the gas they buy, maintaining a profit margin and checking out the competition throughout the community.
�It just depends on what the local market will stand,� said Bob Dykstra, owner of Bob�s Amoco. �In this town you can get by with being a penny or two higher than the other guy, but after a certain amount of time, your volume starts to drop out. There are a lot of loyal customers who come no matter what. But there are others who
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will go where it�s cheaper,
because they�re also driving around looking at prices.�
There is concern among gas station operators about people who make their living by driving, and those who may not be able to afford the current prices.
�It�s the truckers who are really hurting,� said Tammy Baisden, assistant manager at the Coffee Cup Fuel Stop at I-29 and Highway 50. �They�re not able to make the money they should be with the price of diesel being so high.�
�I�m sure there a lot of people who are feeling a crunch in their pocket book ��gas is expensive � but they�ve got to have it,� said Bill Wood, owner of Coyote Convenience. �Everything else has gone up, too, like milk and meat. But gas hasn�t always been that high. This came so fast. It was a surprise to everyone. Gas hasn�t been in this range for a long time.�
In Vermillion, prices are averaging $1.51 per gallon for regular unleaded and ethanol, ranging from $1.479 to $1.549.
Todd Stewart, owner of Stewart Oil & Tire Co., recalls selling gas for 27 cents a gallon in the 1960s. Dykstra also remembers the low prices.
�It sold for about 49.9 cents when I started in this business in 1975,� Dykstra said. �But it also got close to today�s price in 1979 when there was another OPEC situation and we were on gas allocation.�
�It�s happened before,� added Bob Vacek, manager at Freedom Valu Center. �Gas has gone way up and then back down again. Most people complain, but it doesn�t make any difference. There�s nothing you can do about it except just go along with it.�
�People can bellyache all they want, but they still have to buy gas,� Stewart said. �Some people blame me � some don�t. But we�re all victims. It�s a political deal. The oil companies are the ones who are making the big money.�
Many people, from politicians to the general public, blame OPEC � the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries � for the gasoline price increases, because oil-producing countries have boosted prices by reducing production.
According to a March 18 Associated Press report, Congressman John Thune said the Clinton administration has admitted it was caught off guard in the period leading up to the existing gas price situation. He said the nation needs a coherent, responsible and long-term energy policy to deal with such matters.
�We are where we are because of failed policies,� Thune said. He added that he hopes the administration sends a clear message of outrage to foreign oil producers. He said the United States is being held hostage by Middle East nations such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
�Gas companies and the government are blaming this all on OPEC,� Dykstra said. �Personally, I don�t think that�s totally it. From what I�ve read and heard on the news, we only buy one-fourth of all the oil we use from OPEC, and when they decrease production and raise the prices, so does everyone else. It�s not all an OPEC problem.�
OPEC will meet March 27, �and depending on what happens during that meeting � if they increase production � we may see prices go down,� said Cheri R. Cihak, director of marketing and public affairs for AAA South Dakota. �Even so, it could be six to eight weeks before we see the effect at the pumps. If OPEC doesn�t increase production, prices will continue to rise.�
�We�ll just have to wait and see what comes out of that OPEC meeting,� Brunick said. �I hope they kick the supply up to get the prices down a little. But OPEC has a lot of power. There�s not much we can do about it.�
Kevin Annis, manager of Pump �n Pak, however, is trying to keep the gas price situation in perspective.
�If we keep things in perspective, the prices aren�t too bad,� Annis said. �I see this as a temporary thing, so I don�t get too excited about it.
�I think we have it pretty good in the United States,� he added. �We can�t complain too much because you know overseas they�re paying twice as much or more.�