As gas prices rise, Philadelphia area residents rethink how they work

Soaring gas prices are making life difficult for gig workers who depend on using their cars to make ends meet.

Nozzles pump gas into vehicles at a BP gas station. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Nozzles pump gas into vehicles at a BP gas station. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Gas prices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania hit all-time highs over the weekend — amid tight worldwide oil supplies and increased demand as the industry feels the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Drivers can expect more increases as prices push even farther above $4 a gallon, the highest price that American motorists have faced since July 2008, as calls grow to ban imports of Russian oil.

Wallingford resident Justin Sekelewski makes his living performing and teaching music in the tri-state area. He says rising gas prices have really cut into his ability to make money and made him think twice about which gigs to take on.

“Because I have to drive everywhere for work, whether it’s a gig or teaching music privately, and rehearsals, some of which aren’t paid,” he said. “I’m not willing to drive to Jersey for work, which has been a major stressor.”

Sekelewski says he’s shifting around his performance and teaching schedule to make his trips more fuel efficient.

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Prices at the pump were rising long before Russia invaded Ukraine and have spiraled faster since the start of the war. The U.S. national average for a gallon of gasoline has soared 45 cents a gallon in the past week and topped $4.06 on Monday, according to auto club AAA. Prices are 50% higher than they were a year ago and are expected to keep rising.

Lower Merion resident Basil Dubrosky works construction but has a side hustle delivering food. He says he’s lucky he has another job because it’s getting to the point where delivering food is no longer worth it.

“If I were to fill up my tank with $10 dollars, I would make $20 dollars in that hour so that’s half of the money I would be making right there in the gas tank,” he said.

Meanwhile, Congress is stepping up pressure on President Biden to ban Russian oil imports. Two local representatives – House Republican Brian Fitzpatrick of Bucks County and Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer from Bergen County New Jersey introduced the bill to block Russian oil.

The price is even higher in Europe, averaging 1.75 euros per liter last week, according to the European Commission, the equivalent of $7.21 per gallon.

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GasBuddy, which tracks prices down to the service-station level, said Monday that the U.S. was likely to break its record price of $4.10 a gallon, but that does not account for inflation. In today’s terms, the record price would be equal to about $5.24 after accounting for inflation.

“Forget the $4 per gallon mark, the nation will soon set new all-time record highs and we could push closer to a national average of $4.50,” said GasBuddy analyst Patrick De Haan. “We’ve never been in this situation before, with this level of uncertainty. … Americans will be feeling the pain of the rise in prices for quite some time.”

Energy prices are contributing to the worst inflation that Americans have seen in 40 years, far outpacing higher wages. Consumer prices jumped 7.5% in January, compared with a year earlier, and analysts predict a 7.9% increase when the government reports February figures later this week.

Oil prices soared early Monday before retreating. Benchmark U.S. crude surged to $130 a barrel overnight, then moderated to around $119, a 3% gain, in afternoon trading. The international price skyrocketed to $139 before falling back to about $123 a barrel. Major U.S. stock indexes were down more than 2%.

The United States is the world’s largest oil producer — ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia — but it is also the biggest oil consumer, and it can’t meet that staggering demand with domestic crude alone.

The U.S. imported 245 million barrels of oil from Russia last year — about 8% of all U.S. oil imports — up from 198 million barrels in 2020. That’s less than the U.S. gets from Canada or Mexico but more than it imported last year from Saudi Arabia.

The increasingly violent Russian attack on Ukraine has increased calls to cut off Russia from the money it gets from oil and natural gas exports. Europe is heavily dependent on Russian gas.

President Joe Biden has been reluctant to ban Russian oil, fearing it could further fuel inflation heading into the midterm elections this November.

Many Republicans and a growing number of Democrats in the House and Senate, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have endorsed banning Russian crude as a way to put more pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White House hasn’t ruled out a ban, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the United States and its allies were discussing a ban “while making sure that there is still an appropriate supply of oil” on the world market.

Talk of a ban on Russian oil has led U.S. officials to consider other sources that are currently limited. In what was supposed to be a secret trip, senior U.S. officials traveled to Venezuela over the weekend to discuss the chance of easing oil sanctions on the major crude-exporting country.

Ronnie James, an Uber driver in Brooklyn, wants the government to do something to bring prices down — get oil from Venezuela or tap more from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“The folks who are every day building the wealth of this nation could use a break,” he said.

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