Thursday, April 27, 2006

Local drivers are spitting mad about soaring gasoline prices — at $3 a gallon or more in the D.C. area — and they say the government should step in to improve the situation at the pump.

“It’s price gouging, and it’s obvious,” said Vincent Deal, 48, an information specialist from Davidsonville, Md., who, like many in the area, has been forced to change his driving habits because of the high gas prices.

He was filling his midsize sport utility vehicle at a BP station near Dupont Circle, where regular unleaded was selling for $3.15 a gallon and ultimate was $3.35 a gallon.

“They treat us Americans like sheep,” he said, adding that he now tries to consolidate his errands and spends more time mapping his way around the area before he drives.

John Brown, 50, a state employee from Baltimore, said either the government or President Bush should fix the problem.

“They’re the brains of the operation,” said Mr. Brown, who was getting gas at a station in downtown Annapolis where regular unleaded was $2.99 a gallon and supreme was $3.25 a gallon. Mr. Brown now takes the bus to work three days a week and stays close to home on the weekends.

“I’m sure the president can do something about it,” he said. “He’s got shares in the oil companies. He’s getting rich off of it.”

Most drivers agreed yesterday that something must be done soon to alleviate the pain at the gas pump, or at least to stop the situation from getting worse.

“It’s getting to be summertime, and you like to go to the beach or see your family,” said Willie Allen, 63, a government delivery driver who was filling up a government-issued Chevy Suburban at an Exxon station on Capitol Hill. “It’s hard to do with prices like this.”

Joseph J. Colabella, 59, an electrical contractor from Baltimore County, said his monthly gas bill increased from $1,100 in February to $1,800 last month, and he expects it to go higher.

“It’s getting to the point where I can’t stay in business. This alone is going to put me out of business,” said Mr. Colabella, who drives as much as 400 miles a day for work.

Mr. Colabella was filling up his full-size Chevy van at an Enroy service station in South Baltimore, where regular unleaded was selling for $2.95 a gallon and premium for $3.19 a gallon. He said he stopped going out at night to save money.

“Honestly, I don’t know what [the government] can do. But, if they have to get in there and break up the oil companies — maybe that’s communism, but that’s OK,” he said.

Anthony Santos, 23, a waiter and a student from Silver Spring, said he and his girlfriend have little room to change their routine in order to save money on gas.

“What are we going to do, not go to work? Not go to school?” he said, as he fueled up his Toyota Corolla at a Mobil station in Silver Spring, where regular was selling for $3.09 a gallon and premium for $3.19 a gallon.

Mr. Santos said the government needs to make sure that higher prices aren’t just intended to create higher profits. “Somebody is making money off this,” he said. “I think that the government needs to find out who and give us a little bit of a break here.”

In Alexandria, Mike Simpson, 49, a roofer from Arlington, now drives his four-cylinder Ford Ranger pickup truck, instead of his V-8 truck, because the smaller one gets better gas mileage.

“It’s a good thing to drive,” said Mr. Simpson, who drives about 300 to 400 miles a week. Yesterday, Mr. Simpson was filling up his truck at an Exxon station in Alexandria, where regular was selling for $3.05 a gallon and premium was selling for $3.15 a gallon.

Mr. Simpson said he now schedules his jobs close together. “Like today, I had a job in south Arlington and another in north Arlington,” he said. His answer to the high gas prices: “I think there needs to be a cap put on gasoline,” he said.

Walking has become an alternative to driving for several students at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

“It’s crazy now,” said Beck Usubaliev, 19, a VCU student from Chesterfield, Va., who is a valet at the Marriott in Richmond. He was filling up at a Hess gas station, where regular unleaded was selling for $2.89 a gallon and premium was selling for $3.09 a gallon.

“For me to fill up my tank it’s like 50 bucks,” he said, adding that he drives up to 30 miles a day. “I try to drive my car once a day.”

Courtney J. Dowdell, 21, a senior at Loyola College in Baltimore, said she now leaves her car behind and takes the train when she visits her parents in New York. Yesterday, she was filling up her father’s BMW at an Exxon station in northwest Baltimore, where regular was selling for $3.09 a gallon and premium was selling for $3.29 a gallon.

“Even taking a flight on Southwest Airlines is less expensive than driving home [to New York],” said Miss Dowdell, who lives and works on campus but drives 10 miles a day for an internship in downtown Baltimore.

Darryl Morgan, 45, a construction company owner from Glenn Dale, said the federal government should monitor the rising prices.

“I think if the oil industries are getting any tax breaks, they should be taken away,” he said, as he pumped gas at a Hyattsville Citgo station, where regular was selling for $3.06 a gallon and premium was $3.26 a gallon.

“You shouldn’t be getting those kinds of tax breaks if you’re making a profit,” he said. “It’s fundamentally wrong, and it’s not what our country stands for. Take the tax breaks away from them, and let them carry their own load.”

• Matthew Cella, Keyonna Summers, Jon Ward, S.A. Miller, Arlo Wagner and Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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