Rising cost of fuel burning everybody

Duanna Richards and members of her family had been planning to take their own cars over the Memorial Day weekend to visit her ailing mother in Oregon, but decided at the last minute to carpool.

Duanna Richards and members of her family had been planning to take their own cars over the Memorial Day weekend to visit her ailing mother in Oregon, but decided at the last minute to carpool.

That’s just one of the little adjustments the Richards family has made to rising fuel prices.

“My husband and I used to go to The Guild 45th to catch a new release and get the Wallingford experience, but we haven’t done that in awhile now,” said Richards, communications and community relations manager for the City of Auburn. “My son and his wife in Walla Walla used to make the trip over the mountains once a month, but they have not done that in a long time.

As of Monday, AAA Washington recorded the average cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Washington at $4.03 a gallon, 32 cents above what it had been a month earlier. One year ago the average was $3.41.

AAA recorded the average cost of a gallon of diesel at $4.89 per gallon, up 43 cents from one month ago and $1.82higher than the $3.06 per gallon of a year ago.

The speed of the increases has taken everybody’s breath away.

At 9 a.m. last Wednesday, one gallon of regular gas at the Phillips 76 on the corner of 37th and West Valley Highway was $3.99. An hour later, the price was $4.09. By Thursday morning it was $4.15.

From the family planning its next vacation, to the long distance hauler, to the local business owner, everybody is feeling the burn.

Truckers reliant on diesel have no choice but to pass the added costs along to customers. Many independent truckers already have gone out of business.

“Our chocolate comes out of California, so we have seen a huge increase in freight costs,” said Ronnie Roberts, owner of Gosanko Chocolate Art at 116 A St. S.E. “We’re also a company that does a lot of shipping via UPS, so we see a lot of fuel charges on our shipping bill.”

Roberts said his customers also are changing their spending habits.

“People who had extra money in the past don’t have it anymore because they put it in the gas tank,” Roberts said.

Car dealers say people are dumping their SUVs and trucks in favor of less exciting, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“Truck sales and SUV sales are off considerably,” said Way Scarff, owner of Scarff Ford at 501 Auburn Way North. “We are selling a lot of Focuses, and they are good mileage cars, but Ford trucks have been a pretty good part of our business for years, and that’s pretty much gone away. I just read an article that said the Ford Co. plans to build 280,000 to 350,000 fewer vehicles this year than in 2007, and they are looking at more plant closures.

“We are very fortunate to have been here in Auburn for a long time, and our parts and service business is very strong,” Scarff added. “I was talking to a customer the other day about the Ford F150 pickup he used to drive to work. He has a long commute, so he gave wife his truck, and he is driving her Focus.”

Costly for schools

The Auburn School District buys fuel for its fleet of 113 buses wholesale, but it is hurting, too.

“It’s killing us, just like it’s killing you and me when we go to the gas pump,” said Associate Superintendent Mike Newman. “We have increased our annual budget significantly, and we anticipate that where last year we spent $600,000 on fuel, this year it will be close to $800,000. And next year we expect to budget for an additional $200,000.

“It’s just huge, but we’ve got to get kids to and from school.”

The effect on local tourism is still not clear, but AAA Spokeswoman Jennifer Cook said a recent AAA survey showed that families planning vacations are taking a second and third look at their plans.

“What we found is that people are still traveling, but they are changing their trips in the planning process,” said Cook. “They are not traveling as far away from home, they are choosing to stay in less expensive hotels, eat in less expensive restaurants. Their destinations may be less expensive as well. Instead of driving SUVs, they may choose smaller cars.”

Auburn still on the map

Debbie Luce, tourism marketing coordinator for the Auburn Tourism Board, said Auburn, with draws like Emerald Downs, the White River Amphitheater, Muckleshoot Casino, Pacific Raceways and the Auburn Supermall, should still be an in-state tourist destination.

“I think you are going to see a lot of interstate travel, east to west and west to east, and one-day trips are going to be really big this year, too,” Luce said. “It is our job to show what we have to offer hopefully turn their visit into a one- or two-night stay.”

Hoteliers said they had not noticed a drop off in bookings.

One thing people have not been doing is cutting back on visits to the Auburn Supermall.

“We’re not seeing a decrease in activity as far as customer traffic,” said Bruce Goldsberry, general manager of the Auburn Supermall. “It’s a little early in the game to talk about spending habits. But as a value outlet center, we are faring better than traditional shopping centers based on discussions we’ve had with some of our peers in the area like Southcenter and the Bellevue Mall.”

Calls to trucking companies and building contractors were not returned for this article.