National, SoCal gas prices surge

By Zachary Chen, Apr. 12, 2022

Like all drivers across Los Angeles County, Cal Poly Pomona students have faced record-breaking gas prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent U.S. sanctions on Russian oil imports.

The monthly average price per gallon of gas in the Los Angeles area during March was nearly $5.70, surpassing the previous record-high $4.53 in July 2008 — according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. A vast majority of Cal Poly Pomona students drive alone to campus, according to pre-pandemic campus transportation data, making the climbing gas prices a point of concern.

LA-area gas prices have reached record highs in the past month. (Zachary Chen | The Poly Post)

“It’s not a good feeling to see the gas prices higher, but at the end of the day what can you do?” said Stephen Lin, a mechanical engineering student. “It’s annoying to see, but you don’t really have a choice with things like this.”

The prices in LA increased about $1 from February to March and $1.92 higher compared to March 2021.

The price increases in gas follow U.S. sanctions on Russia following the Ukraine invasion, banning the trade of all Russian exports, including crude oil and natural gas. Russia ranks third in the world for oil production, making up 11% of the world’s oil production, the country’s main source of revenue.

Oil and gas work as part of a global market, with prices fluctuating based on supply and demand. However, another factor that comes into play is when investors believe that demand may increase or decrease drastically in the future. This is called market sentiment. Richard Willson, a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, detailed the reasoning behind these fluctuations in the market.

“Some of this increase in price is anticipating a worst-case scenario, which may not happen,” said Willson. “In recent days, the price of crude oil and gasoline has come down a bit because the way markets work is that people trade on their expected future price of oil. The resolution of the conflict in Ukraine will moderate these increases because there isn’t a global shortage, it’s more like uncertainty that cause the price to go up.”

Prior to the recent surge, gas prices were already on the rise. During the pandemic, U.S. oil production was decreased in response to the statewide shutdowns for COVID-19 that lowered automobile use throughout the country. The rising price of gas over the past year reflected demand for oil and gas with more drivers returning to the road.

As for how long this price spike for gas may last, many factors will determine that. John Lloyd, professor in the History Department and co-chair of the Campus Alternative Transportation Committee shared his expectations going forward.

“A lot of it depends on what happens in Europe and how long this war lasts,” said Lloyd. “It will take time for global production to meet demand. Major oil-producing countries will likely be ramping up production to meet this demand and that will take time. It’s hard to say how long it’s going to last. We’re dealing with a couple of crises that are long-term, and so we really do need to think about how do we shift our transportation system so we’re less reliant on oil.”

California lawmakers are making pushes for possible solutions of relief for those affected by the prices. One past failed proposal was a statewide gas tax holiday, suspending the 51-cent per gallon gas tax. Currently, a new proposal is being voted on and would be set to send a $400 direct payment for each vehicle that a California household owns.

“I would rather have some kind of rebate or tax credit for low-income people to address the impact of high gasoline prices rather than give everybody a discount, even people who don’t need it,” said Willson. “The other issue is that the market sets the price you pay so the state could tax 50 cents, but you might not see 50 cents at the pump because it’s up to the private market to determine the price.”

U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., joined two other senators on April 6 in calling for an investigation into West Coast gas prices under the suspicion that private trading practices may be to blame for disproportionate increases.

With gas prices likely to remain high, alternative modes of transportation are a viable option for those looking to save at the pump.

One of the alternatives available for students at CPP is the newly introduced Class Pass, a free bus pass offered by Foothill Transit that allows CPP students to ride for free on all their buses. Eligible students are required to be enrolled in one unit to receive the pass, and it can be picked up at the Games Room in the Bronco Student Center.

For Lloyd, an electric bike has served as his main alternative for transportation when looking to get around town and commute, saving an estimate of $500 on gas a month. Lloyd currently utilizes both an e-bike and the Foothill Transit bus system on his 22-mile commute to campus.

“I own an e-bike and have become a real proponent of them because I’ve been really able to reduce the amount that I drive,” said Lloyd. “I’m not really hit by the gas prices because I’ve been riding my e-bike. We need to make these more affordable for low-income people, students and others who could really use them.”

For those that are unable to avoid the costs at the pump, establishing healthy driving habits could help improve gas mileage. According to AAA, studies have shown that personal driving habits are the biggest factor that affects vehicle fuel consumption. Some measures that could increase gas mileage include:

  • Keeping tires properly inflated. Underinflated tires not only affect fuel economy but can often affect handling and braking.
  • Avoiding hard accelerations and stops. These actions greatly increase fuel consumption.
  • Slowing down and driving the speed limit. Aerodynamic drag causes fuel efficiency to drop as speeds increase after 50 mph.
  • Minimizing the use of air-conditioning. Open windows have less effect on fuel economy compared to an engine-powered air conditioner.
  • Using phone applications, like GasBuddy, which are useful in locating the cheapest gas stations.

Feature image by Zachary Chen

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