Most see gas hitting $4 in 2008

The Columbus Dispatch – November 23, 2007

Dorothy Runyan and her husband are driving to visit their family in Virginia only twice this year instead of the usual three times.

Matt Ellinger is now carpooling to work and traded in his SUV for a vehicle that gets better gas mileage.

Chris Fullen turns down her furnace during the day and switched to more energy-efficient light bulbs.

Bit by bit, many central Ohioans are changing their habits to cope with high energy prices, a new survey for The Dispatch by Saperstein Associates shows.

“I’m terrified about my electric bill,” said poll respondent Fullen, 38, a Grove City homemaker.

Ellinger, 33, of Canal Winchester, is commuting with his wife, who works close to his office at Battelle, where he is a pharmaceutical researcher. Last year, he traded in his Jeep Cherokee for a Honda Element, and now he and his wife are considering a hybrid next year to replace her leased car.

Runyan, 73, of Whitehall, said she and her husband try to keep the gas tanks filled on the pickup he drives and the SUV that she uses, but that they try to drive hers as much as possible because it gets better mileage.

They’ll need it, polltakers say.

A whopping 82 percent foresee $4-a-gallon gasoline within a year.

Already, almost three-fourths say high gasoline prices are causing them at least “somewhat serious” problems. More than a third say they have cut back on holiday travel plans and almost twice as many are driving less overall.

Lisa Groomes, 48, of the East Side, doesn’t just hop in the car and go anymore — not with gasoline prices hovering around $3 a gallon.

“What I find myself doing is making every trip count. I think about what else I need to do to save on trips.”

For example, today she plans to stop at a store or two on the way to her own retail job.

“I’ve always been a person who budgets. The line item on gas, I have had to increase, and the food line item, too.”

Perhaps the biggest change for Columbus-area residents has come at home: Three-fourths are adjusting their thermostats to save energy — and money.

Jane Young, 75, of Clintonville, said she is trying to be more diligent in keeping the dial set at about 68 during the day and lower at night.

Although she isn’t necessarily postponing or not taking trips as a result of higher gasoline costs, she is trying to organize her errands better to avoid unnecessary trips.

The price at the pump also affects her volunteer efforts delivering Meals on Wheels.

“It’s become more of a charitable contribution than it used to be,” she said.

Young is among those who won’t be surprised to see gasoline reach $4 a gallon in 2008.

“I don’t think we’re going to see $2 a gallon again anytime soon,” she said.

Paula England, 60, of the Eastmoor neighborhood in Columbus, isn’t curtailing her travel or otherwise making concessions to higher gas prices. She estimates that she spends about $20 a week on fuel for her Honda Accord, commuting to her job as an executive administrative assistant in Reynoldsburg.

“I really would like to see the U.S. do something that’s more mindful of the cost of the crude,” she said. “I really think that refineries need to be upgraded or new ones built, and we should look for new sources of oil in our country.”

Martin D. Saperstein, president of the Columbus polling firm that conducted the survey, noted that, not surprisingly, the impact of high gasoline prices appears to be affecting low-income residents the most. That shows up as a racial divide because blacks typically earn less than whites.

For example, 67 percent of black respondents say the elevated prices have made a “very serious” impact on them and their families, compared with 29 percent of white poll-takers. Two-thirds of blacks say they have trimmed holiday travel plans; barely a quarter of whites say the same thing. Twice as many blacks have begun carpooling or taking the bus as whites.

Saperstein also pointed out that women are more likely than men to shop around for lower gasoline prices.

The telephone poll of 401 Columbus-area residents Nov. 13 through Monday has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The error margin is higher for subgroups, such as in the racial comparisons above. The data were weighted to conform with central Ohio demographics.

Dispatch reporters Catherine Candisky, Alan Johnson, James Nash, Mark Niquette, Jonathan Riskind, Jim Siegel and Jack Torry contributed to this story.