$4 a gallon for gas is 'enough'

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

"Bike, walk or take the bus," is how Lewiston City Councilor Craig Saddlemire travels. Occasionally, Saddlemire will borrow a car when he needs one.

AUGUSTA — Grumbling as they fill up, Maine consumers have grown used to gas prices bouncing from $3.30 to $3.80 a gallon.

Why gas in Maine is higher

AUGUSTA — When consumers ask why Maine's gas prices are higher than the national average, Kenneth Fletcher has two answers beyond the reasons that recent hurricanes closed refineries and worldwide demand is up.

In general, New England pays higher prices because it's at the end of the pipeline and farther away from refineries, said Fletcher, director of the Governor's Energy Office.

Second, Maine's gas taxes are 9 and 10 cents higher than neighboring states, Fletcher said. “The gas tax isn't the big driver in high prices,” he said. “The big driver is the price of crude.”

Motorists everywhere pay the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, and state taxes on top of that, which pay for bridges and road repairs.

In New Hampshire, the state gas tax is 19.6 cents; in Massachusetts, 21 cents; and in Maine, 30 cents per gallon. Maine's gas tax is tied to inflation, and has stayed the same in recent years, Fletcher said.

While 9 and 10 cents more than neighboring states is small considering the overall price of gas, it's enough to push the price to $4, which grabs the attention of consumers, Fletcher said.

Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said Maine's gas tax is not to blame for high prices.

Maine's gas tax is pennies on the gallon “while we've been hammered by the cost of oil going through the roof,” Voorhees said. “Gas prices have increased enormously in the last decade and last few years because the cost of a barrel of oil has gone way up.”

Maine's gasoline tax is consistent with New England's average, he said. It's higher than New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and lower than Rhode Island and Connecticut. Blaming Maine's gas tax for higher prices “while our roads and bridges are crumbling is not the solution," Voorhees said. “The solution is more efficient cars and trucks.”

That's on the way, he said. Last month, the federal government doubled fuel standards of new cars to 54 mph by 2025. That's like cutting the cost of gas in half, Voorhees said. “It's a huge benefit to consumers.”

Gas prices are expected to soon fall slightly, because the refineries have recently come back on line, and higher prices lower consumer demand, as does the end of summer travel, he said.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

But things change at $4 a gallon, said Kenneth Fletcher, director of the Governor's Energy Office.

Four dollars a gallon sets off a psychological trigger. “It's like 'Star Trek,'” the price has gone to where it hasn't gone before, Fletcher said Wednesday. Consumers react with, “'Enough is enough.' And it's a huge amount of money."

Four dollars a gallon is where some attitudes and behavior begins to change. Motorists drive less. If they can't cut back on driving, "they cut back someplace else. They aren't going out to eat or to the movies. That hurts the overall economy," Fletcher said.

Calls to Fletcher's office have picked up in recent days. “People are saying, 'What in the heck is going on?'” Many motorists don't have an option. “In Portland some young people are starting to go without cars,” Fletcher said.

Some start to think about more energy-efficient cars. When gas prices rise, “we start selling more fuel-efficient cars,” said Adam Lee of Lee Auto Malls.

High gas prices prod some to consider going from a two-car family to a one-car, or going without a vehicle entirely.

Lewiston City Councilor Craig Saddlemire, who's been car-less since 2006, said he's getting more interest from others thinking about life without their own wheels. They ask him how he does it.

I walk the most,” Saddlemire said.

Saddlemire is a self-employed video maker, does not have children, and works from home or does most of his work within a 4-mile radius of where he lives.

A bicycle enthusiast, he rides, takes the bus, and when he needs to, he borrows a friend's car or uses a “Zipcar” at Bates College, where vehicles are rented by the hour.

He estimates he saves $7,000 to $10,000 a year by not owning a car when adding up car payments, insurance, registration, repair and gas. He gets most of his exercise from walking or biking. “That's obviously a huge personal and financial benefit,” he said.

A member of the Lewiston-Auburn Bicycle Pedestrian Committee, Saddlemire said more people are driving less and walking and biking more. “They say, 'Did you see the bike lane that went up on Ash Street?'”

Going without a car takes courage, but he said he's figured out how to do 90 percent of what he did before.

Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said his family has gone to one car.

"On most days I go car-less," Voorhees said. "I live near where I work and walk to work.”

But getting rid of a vehicle is a tough choice in Maine where there are not enough transportation options. Urban areas like Portland and Lewiston have bus service, but commuter transportation is lacking, he said.

The Maine Turnpike Authority has refused to do commuter service Zoom buses,” Voorhees said. “And we were disappointed the state axed the 'Go Maine' commuter van program. There's a lot of things we still need to do.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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Comments

FRANK EARLEY's picture

To Mr. Fletcher, and Mr. Voorhees......

Thank you for your well intended explanation to the gas prices. Now some reality. The price of the cost of crude is the same in New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. I like how you consider the Maine gas tax as such a minor problem. The roads and bridges are still crap no matter what the taxes are, and I drove trucks in this state for twenty five years, I know. You need to climb off your high horses, and join the real world. I'm disabled and unable to work, there are people laid off and can't find jobs. Quite a few people I know don't have a lot of disposable cash left over every month. I'm not going to be able to afford a 2025, vehicle until 2034, if I'm lucky.
Nice try, but it's people like you who really (using some self restraint here) get me upset. Real people aren't looking forward to 2025 for their new cars, we're trying to live now. How about some answers for today's working class society.........

 's picture

ask a real person

the guy you cite in this article has no children, is a self employed video maker, and only has to go 4 miles. great. now, how does the other 99.9% of the public do it?

FRANK EARLEY's picture

Again, this may sound dumb....

I know I miss the mark from time to time, but I have to wonder about something here. In the past, when gas prices were going skyward, it was in all the news outlets. Every story contained information on the cost of a barrel of oil. Being home most of the time, I get to watch way to much news. I like to watch the different news channels because not one of them agree with each other and it's almost entertaining. What I haven't seen lately on the national level is any mention of high gas prices. I know other international problems have been the headlines recently, but no mention at all about gas prices. Just wondering. Is this as big of a problem anywhere else? Or is it just in Maine. I'm kind of curious as to the price of a barrel of oil these days.......

 's picture

Gas prices

Its hard enough to buy gas when your working.But I'm laid off and job searching has just gotten worse to drive around. As i live in an area that you have to drive any where for thing.Our county and states can do better for us,but won't as its more money for them. And I think this county is going to hell in a hand bag!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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