It’s week four of Spring Quarter, gas prices are climbing and commuting to campus for class and work has become a costly expense for tens of thousands of OSU students, faculty and staff.
Sierra Cooper, a second-year in English and psychology, is struggling just to fill her car with gas so she can attend class.
Cooper, who drives from Hilliard, Ohio, to OSU’s Columbus campus, said gas prices are taking a significant toll on her commute, which ranges from 20 to 40 minutes.
“(Rising gas prices) makes going to school even more expensive,” Cooper said. “It’s a huge bummer. I fill up my tank once a week and that’s $50 right there.”
According to AAA data, the average cost of unleaded gasoline in the metro-Columbus area on April 20, 2010, was $2.80.
The average cost of unleaded gas in the metro-Columbus area on Wednesday, exactly one year later, was $3.75 — nearly a 34 percent increase.
On Wednesday, the cost of gas at some stations near OSU was higher than the metro-Columbus average.
Gas prices at the Exxon station at the corner of Summit and East 17th Avenue were $3.85 for unleaded and $3.97 for mid-grade gas.
The Shell gas station at North High Street and East Lane sells its brand of unleaded gas for $3.89 and mid-grade fuel for $4.08.
In an email to The Lantern, Kimberly Schwind, the AAA Ohio Auto Club public relations manager, explained rising fuel costs throughout the country.
“The high prices are not based on supply and demand. We do not have a supply issue. What’s happened is, the unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa has market speculators worried that the tension will spread to large oil-producing countries and impact supply,” Schwind said.
“Because of this, they are willing to invest more for crude oil futures. As the crude oil prices rise so do the prices at the pump.”
Schwind said the lessened strength of the United States’ dollar is partially to blame for rising gas prices.
“What happens is, when the dollar weakens, investors, including those holding foreign currencies, are more likely to invest in commodities, including crude oil, which pressures prices upward,” Schwind said.
The OSU community does have options when it comes to combating the increasing cost of refueling its cars.
Marty Stutz, vice president of communications, marketing and customer service for the Central Ohio Transit Authority, said he expects commuters to turn to COTA bus service as gas prices continue to rise.
“When it costs somebody $50-plus to fill their gas tank, many people start to think of ways that they might be able to stretch that tank of gas further and we see that many of them try public transit,” Stutz said.
Unlike consumers who are subjected to the fluctuating cost of gas, 40-foot COTA transit coaches fill their 120-gallon tanks with ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel that is purchased at the “pre-determined price” of $3.36 per gallon, Stutz said.
“For a portion of our fuel, we have a pre-determined cost that we set some months ago in 2010,” Stutz said. “We are not experiencing an ‘across the board’ increase in our fuel (costs). We’re a little better off than your average driver right now.”
In May, COTA will expand bus route 84 service and Stutz said those changes will allow COTA to continue to assist the OSU community as fuel costs rise.
“(Buses) will run at greater frequency,” Stutz said. “We’re adding some destinations in three more territories. Instead of just the line 84 in Upper Arlington and Ohio State, we will have line 80, 82 and 84. We’ve just found a way to make some of that service more convenient in the Ohio State area and some of the adjacent neighborhoods.”
Andria Gray, a fourth-year in nursing lives in the Short North but still drives to campus. She said she fills up her tank once a week.
“I’ve considered the bus, but it’s not always on time and the times that are available don’t work with my class schedule,” Gray said. “I’ve also considered biking, but I’m more likely to get hit than anything because bikers are nuts on campus.”
Schwind, who studied meteorology and atmospheric sciences at OSU, provided some helpful tips for conserving gas for OSU commuters.
“Driving faster and driving above the speed limit is going to burn more gas,” Schwind said. “Also, there’s a lot of stop-and-go traffic around campus. You really want to try to avoid slamming on the breaks when you get to a stop light and hitting the gas hard when you begin to drive again. This will all help you conserve gas.”
All the precautions in the world won’t prevent the needle on your dashboard from eventually dipping low to indicate that your gas tank is empty.
When the time comes for Cooper to pay to refill her tank again, she said she’ll be “stuck.”
“Last winter it was, like, $30 (to refuel); now it’s $50,” Cooper said. “As far as money goes, anything that’s added on top of tuition and books makes it stressful.”
Ben Axelrod contributed to this story.