Paid $2.97.9 a gallon for 87-octane regular at the Exxon station in Floyd Sunday. Almost seemed like a bargain after a week at $299.9. According to the talking heads on the tube gas prices will go down over the next few weeks (unless we have another real or manufacturered crisis).
Have high gas prices kept drivers off the road? Not always. Over lunch last week, Fred Newhouse, executive VP at the Bank of Floyd, told me drivers were just piling up more revolving debt on gas and bank cards to keep gas in their cars. That, he said, concerns people like him who have to depend on people paying their bills.
A report on CNBC last week said many gas companies have recently raised the credit limits on their gas cards so consumers can pile up more debt. In reality, few oil companies operate their own credit operations nowadays. Most run their cards through Citibank and Citi has quietly raised credit lines for most customers so they can pump more high-priced gas before maxing out their cards.
CNBC said most consumers carry revolving balances on their gas and bank cards, a dangerous trend in the best of times and worrisome in today’s iffy economy. We pay off our gas and bank cards each month but the checks to Exxon, Shell, Citgo, BP and Sunoco are more than twice as high as they were a year ago. Most workers in rural counties like Floyd have to drive 30 miles or more to work and 60-100 mile round trips five days a week can run into a lot of gas bills at the end of the month. Fortunately, my morning commute is five miles so a tank of gas can last a couple of weeks, even allowing for a couple of trips a week to Roanoke or Christiansburg.
But for how long? We know that, given history, gas prices won’t return to pre-Katrina levels. The propane tank that cost $600 to fill last winter might cost over $1,000 next time. We can switch between two sources of heat in our home but many others cannot. Those on fixed incomes face a long, expensive winter and the board of supervisors are already talking about a tax increase for next year so they can pay higher gas prices for their vehicles.
Some of our friends say they are already at the breaking point on paying the higher costs. Others see that point approaching at breakneck speed. Those who depend on long drives to get to and from work may find they cannot afford the gas to get to the jobs they must have to pay their bills.
We can talk until the cows come home about dependence on fossil fuels and environmental considerations but the real issue here is economic. Those who must drive will fill their tanks any way they can, even if it means loading up their credit cards until each and every one is maxed out. For too many, the money will run out long before the gas.