Gas prices made American workers dependent on their cars

DETROIT (AP) — Wallace Reid is looking for a new career because of high gas prices.

Reid, who drives for Uber and Lyft in New York, fills up his Lexus at least three times a week. He pays about $95 each time, almost double what he was paying last year. To compensate for that, he’s driving more often, but he’s also applying for other jobs that won’t require his car.

“It’s more hours, more stress,” he said. “New York City is not an easy city to work in and it is affecting our lives.”

Reid is not alone. Millions of Americans who depend on their cars for work are changing their habits, signing up for carpools or even giving up their cars for bicycles as gas prices recently hit $5 for the first time. per gallon is reached. According to AAA, this week, it averaged $4.95 per gallon nationwide, up from $3.06 per gallon a year ago.

There may be some help along the way. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden asked Congress to suspend federal gas taxes for three months, which would reduce the price of gas by 18.4 cents a gallon. He also called on states to suspend their own gas taxes.

But in the meantime gas is putting pressure on the budget.

Jess Shoemaker-Galloway was infuriated over whether to charge more for Paws & Whiskers Sitters, their pet-sitting business in Macomb, Illinois. She visits at least 10 homes every day and fills up a 2018 Mazda CX-3 almost every week. A recent fill-up cost her around $50.

This month, she finally starred. She contacted her customers and told them that she is removing the 10% discount she has always given to repeat customers.

Shoemaker-Galloway, who is also a children’s book author, said her clients were understanding. But he worries that gas prices will cut into his business in other ways.

“Cost isn’t just affecting my bottom line,” she said. “Since the price of everything is so expensive, people are cutting back on non-essentials, which means pet sitting and book sales.”

In a normal summer, Orvilia Nieto can make some trips in the RV she lives in Lytle, Texas. But this year it might not be so. She’s struggling to fill the tank of her 2008 Ford Expedition SUV so she can find her job at a TJ Maxx distribution center in San Antonio, about 20 miles away.

Nieto and his colleagues offer advice on where gas is cheapest. She sometimes carpools or fills her tank only halfway, which still costs her over $50. But she feels lucky. A handful of coworkers in her shift, which ends at 2:30, ride their bikes in the dark.

“It’s been a rough road,” she said. “It would have been easier if we lived in the city, could have taken the bus, but at 2:30 a.m. at the end of the shift, what bus line is available?”

Jill Chapman, a senior performance consultant at Insperity, a Texas-based human resources and recruitment company, said gas prices and commute length are increasingly a moot point with job candidates. Chapman said companies could consider temporary bonuses, incentives for public transportation or gas cards to help their employees.

“A business owner needs to acknowledge that there is stress associated with rising gas prices,” Chapman said.

David Lewis, CEO of Norwalk, Operations Inc., a Connecticut-based human resources consulting company, remembers handing out gas cards to his employees in 2009 when gas prices were above $4 a gallon. But this time he won’t because employees have another option: work from home.

“It’s an unwanted development for companies that are trying to get people back into the office,” Lewis said. “That’s another justifiable reason why those employees are holding back.”

Lewis has about 100 employees in Norwalk. Before COVID, 85% of them were in office at least two days a week. Now, there are probably 25% of them. Lewis — and many of his clients — want to see more of the employees in the office but says gas prices are a major deterrent.

“If you’re the kind of company that requires everyone to be there all the time, you’re a pariah,” he said.

Psychology professor Brian Cesario lived within walking distance of the college he taught. But last year, he moved to Hopewell Junction, New York, 55 miles away, to buy a bigger home for his growing family.

Cesario had taught remotely even before the pandemic and assumed he would continue to do so. But last fall, his college began requiring him to drive to campus twice a week, a trip that now costs him $240 in gas each month. Cesario said he doesn’t have enough to make up for it, so he’s looking for a remote job entirely outside of academia.

For those who have to travel, there may be options. On Tuesday, Uber announced that it is bringing back discounted shared rides to nine US cities this summer, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Organizations that engage carpoolers – such as those run by the Southeast Michigan Council of Government in the Detroit area – say they are seeing significantly more participants.

Some are even looking for solutions in their garages. Pam Wiens and her husband — both histotechnologists who prepare tissues in medical facilities — switched vehicles because their commute is longer. Now, she is driving her 2016 Volkswagen Passat and she is driving her 2022 Dodge Ram.

“I’m only 5’1.” I hit my forehead on the side mirror,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m getting used to it.”

But others say they just have to work harder. Brian Schell, an Uber driver in Tampa, Florida, pays $75 every time he fills up his Volkswagen Atlas.

“You can make money but you have to work, work, work,” Shell said. He recently took a side job moving some clients from Florida to Virginia for some extra cash.

Uber says it understands that drivers are feeling the pinch from higher gas prices, and it added a 45-cent to 55-percent surcharge on all trips in March to help soften the blow. But both Reid and Shell say gig companies should be doing a lot more.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s like a grain of sand,” Reid said of the overload.

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