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Consumers Aghast at Pump Prices

If you’re feeling like it’s costing you more every time you go to the gas pump--it’s not your imagination.

Gasoline prices hit a record national average of $3.05 last week. And of course, if you’re driving, and pumping, in the Chicago area, you’re paying much, much more. According to a Web site that tracks such things, average gas prices in Chicago have climbed steadily in just the past month. Mid-April, you drivers paid on average $2.99 a gallon. These days, it’s more like $3.39.

And there’s no end in sight. Some predict $4, even $5 a gallon gas this summer. Chicago Public Radio sent four reporters out to find how soaring prices are affecting consumers.

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WILDEBOER: I’m Robert Wildeboer at the corner of Chicago and Milwaukee on Chicago’s near northwest side. During rush-hour, bike riders pass by here every few seconds. That’s right, seconds. Hundreds of people use this route to commute into the loop and the high price of gas isn’t exactly easing congestion in the bike lane. Case in point, Jodi Adams.

ADAMS: Today was my first ride, is my first ride into work. My car takes premium so it’s almost four dollars per gallon. My bike is free.

Every time the light turns red, three, four, five or even more bikers pull up before it’s green. On one light, I counted thirteen cyclists waiting. Many say gas prices played into their decision to start biking. But for Brenden Hendricks it was THE reason. He recently joined the flock that rides down Milwaukee every morning.

HENDRICKS: I was unemployed. I quit my job and I had not even, I mean, paying for gas became just insane. I had to pay for food instead cause it was, I don’t know, thirty bucks every week to fill it up you know. Doesn’t seem bad for most folks but that was a serious chunk of change for me.

Longtime cyclists say there’s been a noticeable increase in bike traffic along Milwaukee in the last couple years. And they say rising gas prices are preventing them from going back to their cars. I’m Robert Wildeboer.

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KALSNES: I’m Lynette Kalsnes, and I’m at the Re/Max Suburban in Schaumburg. I’m here with Lyn Sims, who’s a realtor. She’s preparing for the day, when she goes out, so she can do a listing with one of her clients.

SIMS: Well, I’m trying to be definitely more conscious where I’m driving. The other day I was coming up from showing a house in Carol Stream. And I swerved in for a cheaper price, that was $3.25. So that was very, very aggravating. (Laughs).

Realtors routinely put on thousands of miles on their vehicles each year. Sims says there are not a lot of public transportation options.

SIMS: I think the only thing where I don’t have to start up my car is the cleaners, and that’s because he’s like 3 doors down. Everything else I have to get in my car and go somewhere.

It’s costing her 16 dollars more to fill up her tank.

SIMS: What I do, it’s also time efficient, also. You literally map out in a circle where you’re going to go and show the buyers houses.

RISTING: So you do try and not use your car as often as you did in the past.

Mark Risting is an agent at Starck Realtors in Streamwood. He figures he puts on more than 20-thousand miles a year.

RISTING: In this business, there’s nothing you can do about it. The customer wants to see properties, you’re not going to say, well, ah, no. You’re going to have to show them the properties. It’s the cost of doing business.

I’m Lynette Kalsnes.

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ALLEE: I’m Shawn Allee. I’m here at a Toyota dealership at 69th and Western in the city of Chicago. I’m here to get an idea of whether high gas prices are affecting car buyers’ behavior. After all, this will be the third summer in a row where gas prices in the city and beyond are above three dollars a gallon.

ALLEE: How do I pronounce your full name?

JAMES TURNER: James Turner

ALLEE: What’s the name of this dealership by the way?

TURNER: Toyota on Western

ALLEE: How do you think gas prices have been affecting consumers mind set as they come in here, if at all?

TURNER: Well, we got people coming in here looking for a vehicle that will give them more miles per gallon.

Dealers here say people have traded in SUV’s for smaller cars, or even the gas-sipping Prius hybrid. But there’s no deluge of sales, just a steady uptick in interest. Still, the current market surprises Turner – he got in the business during the SUV craze.

ALLEE: You say you’ve been in the business for thirteen years, did you ever think you would have a three years in a row of high gas prices?

TURNER: No. I wouldn’t believe that until it happened. Ok? Now, I really don’t know where we’re going now. I don’t know where we’re going, everything’s all up in the air.

ALLEE: If we were looking at this ten years from now, what would you expect? What do you think you might be selling?

TURNER: More fuel efficient vehicles, OK?

ALLEE:: For sure?

TURNER: For sure?

ALLEE: Weren’t we saying that in the mid-eighties and then we took a dive in the mid-nineties, right?

TURNER: Exactly? But it’s coming back - it’s going full circle, that’s the coming wave.

ALLEE: You think people will be paying a price for that?

TURNER: Oh yeah, they will. That’s almost certain that they will, and they probably won’t mind it. It’s going to be healthy and saving money. In the long run, they’re going to even out.

ALLEE: I’m Shawn Allee.

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PUENTE: And, this is Chicago Public Radio’s Michael Puente in Hammond, Indiana, about a block from the Illinois-Indiana state line near Chicago’s far Southeast side.

This morning, like every morning, dozens of Chicagoans head here to Luke’s Citgo gas station to fill up.

Today, a gallon of 87 octane is $3.27, that’s about 20 to 25 cents cheaper than you’ll find anywhere in Chicago.

For these Illinois residents, the drive to Indiana is well worth it.

IRENE JONES: I come to Hammond, Indiana every week. Once a week I fill up. It’s $3.27 here. In my neighborhood it’s $3.45.

That’s Irene Jones, who lives just a few miles away in Chicago. Jones says she comes to Hammond for more than just inexpensive gas. She buys groceries, too.

Station manager Valerie Davis says Chicagoans always visit her place looking for bargains.

Because it’s so close to Chicago, the gas station is in a prime spot, but it’s not the cheapest gas you can find around here.

Just a few miles down the street in Whiting, right near the huge BP Refinery, gas is actually another 10 cents less.

Experts say gas is less expensive here than in Chicago because that city piles on the taxes. But Indiana gas stations don’t attract just those who live nearby.

Juanita Aguilar drives about 45 minutes from her home in west suburban Cicero for cheap gas and cheap smokes.

AGUILAR: It’s about 20 cents difference but I also get my cigarettes when I come over here. Because of the Cook County tax, the Chicago tax, I mean it’s $7 for a pack of cigarettes. Two of us, three of us will get together, we’ll pitch in, we’ll come, we get our stuff. That’s it.”

Gas prices are expected to climb throughout the summer. That means Aguilar’s weekly trek to Hammond isn’t likely to end any time soon.

I’m Michael Puente. Chicago Public Radio.

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