- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2011

As gas prices around the country soared to an average $3.77 a gallon on Monday, many stations are feeling the effects of price-weary drivers as business drops with each uptick in cost.

For five weeks in a row, they have bought less gas than they did a year ago. Drivers bought about 2.4 million fewer gallons for the week of April 1, a 3.6 percent drop from last year, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, which tracks the volume of gas sold at 140,000 service stations nationwide.

Ray Pirzadeh, who owns a Citgo station in Northeast, said his business takes a hit every time the prices go up.

“It’s down for sure,” he said. “It’s hurting business. People have to spend more money, they can’t afford it.”

Mr. Pirzadeh said most drivers spend the same amount, typically $30 to $40, but they buy less gas. They also have less money for in-store purchases like snacks and drinks.

“We’re not operating at a loss, but we’re in a very, very tough situation,” he added.

About 70 percent of the nation’s major gas station chains say sales have fallen, according to a March survey by the Oil Price Information Service. More than half reported a drop of 3 percent or more — the sharpest since the summer of 2008, when gas soared past $4 a gallon. Now it’s creeping toward $4 again.

Station owners are being “nickled and dimed to death” by consumers because of these price hikes, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend.

In the District, those who choose to continue filling up their tanks pay an average of $56.55 a week, Mr. Townsend added, or about $65 a month more than last year at the same time.

So the response from many drivers is to pay the same amount for less gas, as opposed to filling up their tanks.

Ben Zerihun, who lives in the District, said he is buying 10 percent to 15 percent less gas as the prices go up.

Others try to squeeze every ounce of gas out of their vehicles before refueling.

District resident Sandra Silver said she waits longer to refuel. Before, she might have filled up at half-a-tank, but now she waits until it gets closer to the quarter mark.

“I pretty much wait until it gets all the way to a quarter tank,” she said.

Mike Smith, 34, from Accokeek, Md., drives about 60 miles a day and waits until his tank drops to the quarter mark before he refuels.

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