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St. Thomas Residents Grapple with High Gas Prices

April 29, 2005 – For the last three years, Evaristo Rios Jr. has made a livelihood from driving a taxi. Taking visitors on tours and to the places they need to go had always been pleasurable for Rios, until lately.
It was only a year ago that Rios paid $40 to fill the tank of his safari. Those days are gone.
"It's $60 today," Rios said Friday evening, adding that he fills his tank almost every day. "That's a lot of money every week."
Rios is one of the many taxi drivers in the territory feeling the sting of high fuel prices. On one recent day at the Hometown Texaco station, for example, unleaded was selling for $2.69 a gallon, while the power premium was at $2.74.
"I try to drive less now," Rios said, to conserve fuel. He is grateful that the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department has seen fit to implement a $2 per passenger surcharge for licensed taxi drivers.
On April 20, DLCA Commissioner Andrew Rutnik told the Senate Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee that he was planning to implement the surcharge in May to help offset the high cost of fuel for people who make their living as taxi drivers.
"This is good since the price of gas is going up," Rios said. "We really need some help."
Rios said he doesn't think his customers will react positively to the surcharge, however.
"They will cry, but we're hurting, too," Rios said.
Victor Brown, who also drives a safari, agrees. Brown said he thinks what Rutnik is trying to do will bring some relief for taxi drivers like himself.
"I'm really frustrated with the gas prices here," Brown said, adding that he believes the gasoline companies are gouging residents.
Brown said it now costs him $55 to full the tank of his safari, which he needs to do almost everyday.
"I refuse to do dollar runs anymore because of the high price of gasoline," Brown said. "It's just not feasible." He used to pick up locals in his safari at the regular $1 per passenger fee as a service to his community, he said. But rising gas prices, compounded with unruly school children that defaced his safari seats, put an end to his "dollar run" days.
Now, Brown sticks mainly to tours and transporting large numbers of tourists on his 27-seater safari.
The high gas prices affect Brown's family life, as well. It costs Brown an additional $65 to fill his truck, which is his family's main vehicle.
"I used to take my family on outings, but that does not happen too often now," Brown said of his efforts to conserve gas. "Our quality of life is deteriorating."
Shawn Gumbs, who sometimes helps to drive his friend's safari, said it takes $80 to fill the vehicle's tank every three days.
"The cost of living is getting higher and higher every day, and that's the last thing we need," Gumbs said of the increasing gas prices. "With an oil refinery just across the sea, I don't see why we should have to pay these high prices."
The taxi drivers aren't the only ones feeling the pain. Motorists all over the territory feel the pinch. And people who depend on taxis to get to and from work because they cannot afford cars of their own will soon share the burden.
Huget Jacques stood at the No. 1 pump of the Hometown Texaco gas station with her hand on her head as she filled the tank of her white Chevy Blazer with gasoline.
"I have to spend more than $25 to fill it up now," she said. "Sometimes I walk. I just park and walk."
Jacques has to rely on her vehicle because she lives in Wintberg, and the bus doesn't come to her area, she said.
"If we had a good public transportation system, that would help," Jacques said. "It's very hard."
Fidelis George said he couldn't depend on public transportation because he has to leave home early in the morning and return late at night. The cement factory worker said his vehicle is a necessity, even in these times of high gasoline prices.
"Whether it's high or low, I've got to use what I've got," George said. "I just go from work to home now, unless I have something else important to do."
He added, "I cannot afford to burn gas just to go out on a lime."
George said he didn't even partake in Carnival this year because he did not want to waste his gas. He pays $50 to fill the tank of his Toyota Supra. Last year this time it cost him $35.
Tony Ledee, who usually purchases his gas from the Hometown Texaco station or at the Esso On the Run station, said it now costs him $40 to fill the tank of his SUV.
"It has doubled," Ledee said as he tapped his red Chevy Blazer. "For $20 I could have filled this up easy last year."
Ledee said his family has two vehicles, so he and his wife use the smaller car to run errands and use the SUV for family outings with their children.
The parking lot of the Hometown station is full for the moment, and on any given minute of any given day, someone is usually filling up his or her vehicle. Taxi drivers and other motorists agree that gasoline is a necessity and whether the prices are high or low, they will still have to buy fuel. The only thing they can do is conserve.

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