May 19, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

Seattle’s record high gas prices leave drivers, gas stations with tough choices

4 min read

The 76 gas station in Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood offers new messages each week on its sign — one meant to be heartfelt and the other funny, says owner Neal Zeavy.

On Monday, one read “Be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud,” by Maya Angelou. On the other side: “Hey Putin. Go (expletive) yourself.” 

The latter has drawn laughs from customers and is especially relevant this week, Zeavy said.

As gasoline prices continue to soar in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the national average price hit its highest level since 2008 on Monday, at $4.065 a gallon, according to AAA. Prices are climbing even faster in Washington state, where the average statewide price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas hit $4.449 — a new state record.

In the metropolitan area encompassing Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, the average price was $4.630 a gallon, up 45 cents from last week and about $1.30 from last year, according to AAA. Some gas stations on Capitol Hill and in West Seattle on Monday reported prices as high as $5 per gallon.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine, forcing more than 1 million residents to flee, is disrupting the global energy market. Some refineries, traders and banks, afraid of violating sanctions, have stopped buying crude oil from Russia, which sells 10% of the world’s oil and more than a third of the natural gas used in the European Union.

Prices were already accelerating due to pandemic-related supply chain issues and inflation, which has jumped nationally and in Seattle. In February, the Labor Department reported a 7.6% increase in Seattle consumer goods and services, the highest increase since 1981. 

Drivers — including Uber and Lyft drivers who are seeing their take-home pay plummet — and businesses are facing tough choices as they feel the pain at the pump.

Zeavy was selling a gallon for $4.79 on Monday, a 30-cent increase from a week ago. The price is up to the station on 25th Avenue to set, he said, but the amount he is charged by companies changes daily. 

Typically the price fluctuates a few cents each day. When Russia invaded Ukraine, it jumped 22 cents in one night, he said. It’s the exact opposite of what happened during the early pandemic lockdown when gas would drop “multiple of dimes” every day, he said.

Zeavy said he’s not sure whether the station will keep increasing the price or try to eat the costs. 

Laurelhurst is not as price-sensitive as other areas in Seattle and there are not many gas stations in the immediate vicinity to compete with, he said. Still, if the price gets too high, people might go elsewhere.

“You can’t run a nonprofit, so we do our best to try and balance it,” he said.

For the most part, Zeavy said people have been supportive of his business, connecting rising costs to sanctions against Russia. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday found 71% of Americans would support banning Russian oil, even if it means paying more, if it would end the war in Ukraine.

One customer fueling up Monday afternoon got only $20 worth of gas — enough to get her to the Costco in Redmond to fill up the rest of her tank. Sara, who declined to give her last name, said she likes to support Seattle’s local businesses and sympathizes with affected Russians and Ukrainians. But the recent price hikes, she said, have been too much. 

It typically costs Angel Leocona, a mechanical designer, about $30 to fill up his eight-gallon tank. The $10 increase is manageable since he works from home and does not drive frequently, he said. However, if his office in Bellevue decides to go back in person next month, Leocona is thinking about taking the bus. 

Austin Smith came to fill up his car at the 76 gas station because it was the closest, not because of costs. He, too, said the $10 increase to fill his car wasn’t too bad since he gets gas about once a month.

But for Mubarek Gobena, a full-time ride-hail driver from Burien, the hikes have been the latest factor preventing him from making a livable wage driving for Lyft and Uber. 

Last month, Gobena said he netted $4,700 from riders and took home $2,050 to cover both his living expenses and operational costs, like gas. Filling up his hybrid Honda Fit twice a week used to cost around $60, he said. Now, it’s close to $100.

The ride-hailing apps have continued to take a heavy chunk of payments from riders, despite rising gas prices, he said. “We are a backbone of the state’s economy, but [Uber and Lyft] are not treating us like that.”

A campaign aimed at getting the companies to help drivers with fuel costs has gathered more than 5,500 signatures on organizing platform Coworker.org. The petition calls for Uber and Lyft to take a smaller commission from fares and to pay drivers the mileage to pick up a passenger from the point where the request was accepted to the destination, Bloomberg reported.

The companies have struggled to find enough drivers to meet resurgent customer demand — creating higher wait times and fares. The companies’ leaders say supply has substantially improved since they first began doling out incentives and bonuses last year to lure drivers back, according to Bloomberg, which reported recent weekly earnings reports signal driver inventory hasn’t kept up post-omicron.

Gobena, a volunteer organizer for the Drivers Union, said he always fills up his car when he drives a passenger to Federal Way, or other places in south King County where prices are lower. 

“If I’m in Bellevue or downtown Seattle, I would never think about getting gas there,” he said.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/seattles-record-high-gas-prices-leave-drivers-gas-stations-with-tough-choices/