- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Many area motorists are cutting back on their driving as the District of Columbia once again tops the continental U.S. in gasoline prices, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Seventy percent of motorists said they were reducing their driving because prices at the pump have jumped back over $3 a gallon, the survey released yesterday said.

“It’s a choke point. People are saying ‘I can’t abide this,’ and they are cutting back on everything,” said auto club spokesman John Townsend II.

The District placed second among states, after Hawaii, with an average price of $3.14 a gallon of regular gas, Mr. Townsend said. The District’s average price hit a record high of $3.38 per gallon last month.

Richard Breed, an Annapolis resident, usually drives to Northern Virginia twice a week. But as gas in the area hovers above $3 and after his wallet was stolen, he had to change his plans.

“I decided … I would hold off on going because of gas prices,” Mr. Breed said as he filled up at a BP Amoco on New York Avenue Northeast, where regular cost $3.07 yesterday.

Maryland had an average price this week of $3.06 and Virginia $3.03. The metro area reached an average of $3.09 yesterday, 16 cents above the national average of $2.93 per gallon.

Gas prices, which were already climbing in August, jumped to record levels after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast at the end of the month, followed by Hurricane Rita a few weeks later.

While demand for gas has eased some since the peak on Labor Day weekend, the nation is facing a refining supply problem from the effects of Rita, said Richard Karp, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group.

More than 24 percent of the nation’s refineries are shut down or just starting up their operations, Mr. Karp said.

A total of 108 low-producing oil and natural gas offshore platforms were destroyed by the hurricanes and some of the other 53 heavily damaged platforms could be offline until next year, the U.S. Interior Department said yesterday.

Local drivers yesterday said extra trips are on hold until gas prices drop.

Ezekiel Aka used to give his friends rides home, but he’s had to cut back. “Now I go straight to my house. I can’t afford it,” he said.

Other Washington-area motorists said they had no choice but to drive.

Suzanne Njoroge drives from Baltimore to the District for school. Instead of cutting back on driving, she has to cut back in other areas.

“I do less eating out, less ordering out. I don’t get my hair done as often,” Ms. Njoroge said at an Exxon gas station in Northeast.

Larry Jordan drives just as much, too. But he makes more of an effort to keep his car tuned up and tires properly inflated to improve his mileage. Still, he said, the prices hurt.

“Mentally, it hurts. This doggone gas. You have to put $20 in just to make a dent in your tank,” Mr. Jordan said. Yesterday, he put $10 in. “It’s not even going to make a dent,” he said.

Northwest resident Luqman Green said he stopped driving to work and has used the Metro for the past two weeks after his fuel costs jumped 25 percent.

“It’s not as comfortable as driving, but it does end up being cheaper,” said Mr. Green, an account executive for a staffing agency in the District, at the Metro Center station.

About 6 percent of local commuters in the AAA study said they were using mass transit or car-pooling. Only 12 percent of the 4,041 motorists surveyed said they made no changes in their driving habits.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which runs the local subway and bus systems, reported an estimated 8 percent increase in Metro riders for September.

Metro trains handled 706,195 trips on Monday, up 8 percent from 653,331 trips on the same day in 2004, said WMATA spokeswoman Candace Smith.

Rockville resident Gladys Zambrano yesterday ventured onto a Metro train at Metro Center for the first time in her life in an effort to cut down on her gas bill. “I’m going to try and see how this works and if it ends up being less expensive,” she said.

But not all commuters are giving up their cars. “I still drive to work every day,” said Angela Parhan at Union Station. “I just use the Metro for short trips in the city.”

Even though Mrs. Parhan’s gas costs $40 instead of $20 for a fill-up, she is not ready to give up the drive from her home in Waldorf, Md., to her job in the District.

“Maybe if the price got up to $4 a gallon, I would do that,” she said.

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