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Relief at the pump?

Denise Haydt, a senior communications science major, cut back on her driving to cope with higher gasoline prices. A self-described “full-time student and full-time mother,” Haydt longs for the days when fueling a vehicle was much cheaper. “I can remember when gas prices were under 50 cents,” said Haydt, a 44-year-old who takes SEPTA to… Read more »

Denise Haydt, a senior communications science major, cut back on her driving to cope with higher gasoline prices. A self-described “full-time student and full-time mother,” Haydt longs for the days when fueling a vehicle was much cheaper.

“I can remember when gas prices were under 50 cents,” said Haydt, a 44-year-old who takes SEPTA to commute to Main Campus from Lansdale, Pa. She said she takes the train because it’s her cheapest option to get to Temple.

“We felt the pinch of exorbitant gas prices,” Haydt said, referring to herself, her husband and two children. “We try not to drive as much. If it’s close enough for us to walk, we’ll do that rather than drive.

“Yet the price of gas has plummeted over the last seven weeks. The national average of a gallon of unleaded regular is slightly less than $2.38, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s a 66-cent decrease since Aug. 7.

“I find it fascinating that the prices are coming down now,” Haydt said, noting that the Nov. 7 election is fast approaching. “Who says it’s not politically motivated?”

A Temple political science professor downplayed the role of economics in the upcoming election and said current gas prices appear to be the effect of natural market forces rather than oil companies being in cahoots with Republicans.

“It is important to keep in mind that the influence of the economy on congressional elections in nonpresidential] years is much less pronounced by comparison in presidential election years,” Dr. Christopher Wlezien said via e-mail.

“That said,” Wlezien wrote, “good economic news surely won’t hurt Republican [re-election] prospects. Whether it will make the difference on Election Day remains to be seen.”

William J. Stull, chair of Temple’s economics department, explained the fluctuating gas prices as a matter of simple economics.

“This is a classic supply and demand story,” Stull said. The fast-growing economies of China and India have created a large increase in demand for oil in the global market, Stull said. Gas prices increased from their 1990s levels because “demand has increased more than supply,” he said.

The inelastic nature of gasoline, Stull said, is also a factor. That is, people are still going to buy gasoline to fill up their cars in the short run regardless of the cost.Stull stressed that he has “no idea” if gas prices will further decline this year or rise near the $3-per-gallon mark.

“It all depends on the forces of supply and demand.” The price of gasoline is largely dictated by the trading value of crude oil on the commodity
market.

Oil traders determine the price of oil by looking at current events and speculating
on what they think the worldwide supply and demand of oil will be in the near future.Oil traded near $60 a barrel during the past week – much lower than the record $78.40 a barrel set on July 14 amid concerns that Israeli military action in Lebanon could morph into a Mideast regional war and disrupt the supply of oil.

President George W. Bush can do almost nothing to reduce gas prices, Stull said. “Bush might tell the Saudis to not cut production of oil,” and he could tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but that amounts to little influence over oil’s market price, he said.

Stull said the wavering gas prices “hasn’t affected me at all” because his income is high enough to “absorb the costs.” Other Temple students and faculty who drive to commute to campus said higher gas prices haven’t significantly altered their driving customs.

David Adamany, former president of the university and current chancellor, said: “My driving consists only of coming and going to the university from Center City and occasionally going shopping. The rest of the time I walk. So my personal habits have changed very little as a result of gas prices, but I still think they’re very high for most people.”

Karim Seleem, a junior political science major who commutes from the Fairless Hills, Pa., area, said driving costs roughly the same as it would to take SEPTA over the course of the semester, but the train option is less convenient.

“I’d prefer not having to work my schedule on the train schedule,” he said.Seleem said driving to campus is sometimes frustrating, but not because of the costs. “It’s not the amount of money [that bothers me], it’s the amount of traffic,” Seleem said. “I have a parking pass, but I can imagine the hassle
of not having one and driving all around.”

Diana Villa, a senior architecture major who takes up to 10 minutes looking for parking spaces near campus because she doesn’t have a parking pass, said her driving commute from Germantown is her best transportation option. Although driving is more cost-effective than public transportation, “It’s not about the money, it’s about the convenience,” Villa said.

Having a car on campus, Villa said, is useful for storing food, extra clothing and other goods. Villa said she used to drive near the speed limit to conserve fuel.

However, once higher gas prices appeared
to be the norm, Villa sacrificed fuel economy in favor of getting to her destination faster. “It’s time,” Villa said. “It’s all about [saving] time.”

Speeding and aggressive driving are guaranteed ways to get less efficient fuel economy out of a vehicle, according to Philip Reed, the consumer-advice editor at auto-research site Edmunds.com. Better fuel economy means the car’s gasoline supply will last longer.

“A number of factors will reduce fuel economy as the speed builds over 60 mph,” Reed said. “However, by far the most significant is wind resistance. For this reason, some vehicles such as tall, boxy SUVs will be more affected by higher speed than more streamlined sedans.”

Haydt, the senior majoring in communications science, said conserving gas is crucial, but that she really hopes prices at the pump significantly decrease.

“I would be thrilled to death if the prices of gas came further down,” she said, but didn’t entertain that thought for long. “After the election I can foresee [gas prices] going up.”

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman can be reached at sulaiman@temple.edu.

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