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Soaring gas costs crimping some American lifestyles

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- With gasoline prices climbing to near-record levels, some Americans are cutting back sharply back on nonessential driving or trading in their gas guzzlers.

Michael Giles said he stopped volunteering at the Salvation Army to avoid driving his 1990 Chrysler Imperial, which gets 22 miles per gallon.

"I'm retired and live on a pension, so I'm always pinching pennies," said Giles, 61, as he filled his tank in Los Angeles. "I can't volunteer anymore, and so somebody is suffering from that. I suffer because that used to give me something to do."

The average price for gas, including all grades and taxes, reached about $1.75 a gallon Friday, the Lundberg Survey of 8,000 stations nationwide reported. The survey's record is $1.77, recorded in May 2001.

Giles and other Californians are paying the nation's highest prices, with the average reaching nearly $2.06 a gallon on Friday, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. The nation's highest price for self-serve regular was in San Francisco, at $2.10, the Lundberg survey found.

Charles Robinson, 59, of Kansas City, Mo., began cutting back his driving two weeks ago and now uses his car only for essential trips to the grocery store or the doctor or to pay bills. Unleaded gas averaged $1.63 a gallon Thursday in Kansas and $1.59 in Missouri, according to the AAA.

"Everything came to a halt," Robinson said. "It's too much money for too little gas."

The effects of the high prices extend beyond the car owners, said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.

For poorer people, "it probably means fewer trips to the mall, fewer trips out for the family to eat," Kyser said. "So this is going to ripple out through the economy."

Diesel also is more expensive.

Fresno trucker Ricky Dunn, 46, said he is struggling to make ends meet at home because he is spending around $700 more each month for diesel for his truck, and that eats into his profits.

"I stay home more now," he said.

Roger Monay estimated he spent up to $300 in the past month to fuel his van for the 70-mile commute from his Lancaster home to work in Los Angeles.

"I couldn't take it anymore, so just yesterday I bought a used, four-cylinder car -- a Ford Mustang," he said.


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