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Gas prices hit record high

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein The Press-Tribune
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A Jay Leno punch line once revolved around a gas pump that accepts credit cards as well as your 401(k) plan. That was two years “ and more than $1 a gallon “ ago. Gasoline prices this week hit a record $3.58 statewide for a gallon of regular unleaded, according to AAA of Northern California's latest survey. That's a 46-cent increase since the last report on Feb. 12. It's tough because it's affecting groceries and everything we do, said Roseville office worker Amanda Anderson, who commutes from Citrus Heights in what she described as a gas-guzzler. The increased prices affect any extras “ entertainment, travel plans, she said. And it's not just ordinary consumers who are feeling the pinch, either. Though the city of Roseville sees some volume discounts in its fuel purchases, prices are still subject to fluctuation and are affecting the bottom line. For instance, a diesel garbage truck that cost $203.06 to fill up its 75-gallon tank in November 2007 cost $212.03 last week, according to statistics compiled by the city. It might not seem like a lot, but consider that the city last year purchased 436,000 gallons of diesel and 280,000 gallons of regular unleaded “ to power everything from electric, police cruisers, fire trucks, garbage collectors, street maintenance and busses “ and the dollars really start to add up. Getting Johnny to school is costing more, too. The Roseville Joint Union High School District operates approximately 45 diesel-powered busses to service its four comprehensive high schools, as well as schools in the Roseville City School District, said Gary Stevens, the district's director of accounting. Although locked-in fuel contracts give the district some insulation from day-to-day price fluctuations, officials are preparing to increase the fuel budget, he said. We do have contracts, but the cost of fuel is still going up, he said. Another problem: school bussing isn't fully funded by the state, and student ridership fees don't plug the fiscal hole. The gap will become wider because funding for home-to-school is going to be subject to the cuts the state has proposed, he said. One bright spot is a projected savings from the opening of Antelope High School, which will precipitate the elimination of about four bus routes that currently whisk students in the district's Sacramento County attendance area to Oakmont High. (Most students should be able to walk to the school, located near residential neighborhoods, when it opens, officials say.) What that translates into is a savings of 23,000 miles (per year), Stevens said. For Roseville Transit, whose three services “ Dial-A-Ride, commuter and fixed-route busses “ travel an average of 3,100 miles a day, no fare increase is planned to help cover rising fuel costs “ at least for now. We need to make sure we do budget sufficiently to cover any costs that may be passed onto us, said Teri Sheets, a transportation analyst for the city of Roseville. But officials are excited about one effect of the gas price increases: an increase in ridership, which they in large part attribute to the run-up. Sheets said the commuter service, which ferries riders to downtown Sacramento and back again during peak hours, has experienced an uptick of customers averaging about 8 percent in 2008 over 2007, and officials are now in the process of purchasing additional busses to expand the commuter service into the Highway 50 corridor. In fact, the increased popularity has meant crowded busses “ many trips are standing-aisle only. But Sheets noted the city is not turning away riders, though some might be uncomfortable standing up. Placer County Transit officials recently instituted a freeze on new riders for its popular downtown Sacramento commuter service. It's not just busses seeing an increase in riders. Paul Dhadda of Roseville Travel said he's selling more tickets for Amtrack's Capital Corridor service, the commuter service that runs from Auburn to Emeryville. The parking lots are overflowing right now with commuters, it's unbelievable, Dhadda said. The new parking lot we had built a couple years ago is full and people are parking on the streets. He couldn't attribute the entire increase to rising gas prices, but said the one-two punch of rising gas prices and ever-present traffic makes the service attractive. The convenience of it, not having to deal with traffic, is the main issue and then more people are doing it because it saves money, and that's on top of not having pay for parking, he said. Late this week, the lowest price for a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline was $3.48, at the Circle K at 988 Sunrise Blvd., according to the AAA gas price finder service, available online at www.csaa.com. The highest was at the Chevron station at 808 Sunrise Ave., where a gallon cost $3.70.