Pittsburghers may face higher fuel prices and possible shortages

Increasing prices are just the beginning. After the recent catastrophe caused by Hurricane Katrina, consumers are now facing long lines, fuel shortages, and astronomical costs at the gas pump.

In western Pennsylvania alone, gas prices rose an average of 55.4 cents to $3.05 a gallon, according to a survey conducted by AAA (formerly the American Automobile Association). For comparison, gas prices in Pennsylvania were an average of $1.81 just one year ago. The Pittsburgh Business Times reports that gasoline prices are not likely to fall back to regular levels until November. In other parts of the nation, some stations are charging even more ? if there is any gas to be found. Because of the destruction of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, shipments of gasoline throughout the country have been delayed and some have been canceled entirely.

Pennsylvania itself is also facing the possibility of gas shortages and continued price hikes. At a press conference last week, Governor Ed Rendell proposed lifting the state?s 30-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline, and mentioned that fuel supplies may also be rationed. Analysts say that while the tax break may lighten the load on consumers? pockets, it will not bode well for civic projects currently underway that rely on such income.

In response to these increasing costs and headaches, many Pittsburgh residents are choosing to leave their cars at home in favor of public transportation. Pittsburgh?s Port Authority Transit (PAT) spokesperson Judy McNeil says that there is already an increase in the number of people using the Park ?n Ride system and calling the PAT customer service line to learn about public transit in their area. Due to gas rationing, McNeil believes that ?people would have to make choices? about their commute. As for PAT?s ability to handle an influx of public transit users, she said ?We have the capacity to be able to absorb some more passengers into our system.? If gas prices continue to rise, McNeil sees the possibility of employing more buses, but for now, she said, ?we have the ability to react to a larger number of passengers.?

Amanda Zeiders, co-chair of the Pittsburgh activist organization Save Our Transit, also agreed that gas shortages could affect students and other public transit users. She said that ?this is an opportune time? to begin riding public transit.

Commenting on Pittsburgh?s public transit funding problems of last year, she said, ?I believe that what it boils down to is a reliable, predictable source of funding.... I?m sure they [PAT] are going to be stretched.?
However, Zeiders is also concerned with communities outside Pittsburgh. ?There are other parts of the state that are really rural, that might not have a good public transit system at all.?

As far as student action, Zeiders and McNeil both encouraged learning more about Pittsburgh public transit as an alternative to driving. Zeiders said she believed more students should write to their legislators. In the meantime, she said, ?Use the system.?