BY JOSH KAUFMAN and CYNTHIA RAMSARAN
Gas prices have recently begun to pass the $2 mark.
As warmer weather heats up Queens, and motorists head toward cooler pastures, gas prices are being watched more closely than the stock market. The rapid rise in prices at the pump has spurred political grumbling by the City Council, which is now exploring the feasibility of suspending gasoline taxes until prices level off.
At an emergency meeting of the Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee, Speaker Peter Vallone and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz called for the gas tax repeal.
“Until the federal government takes more aggressive and decisive steps to force a drop in gasoline steps, we must do what we can on the state and city level to lower gas costs now,” said Vallone.
“Today’s gas prices are unconscionable and consumers should not have to put up with price gouging,” said Koslowitz, chair of the committee.
If a gallon of gasoline costs $1.40, the city tax is about six cents, the state tax is about 28 cents, and the federal tax is 18 cents, making the total $1.92.
According to a recent report by the Automobile Club of New York, the price of a gallon of regular self-serve gasoline has increased 11 cents over the past month, taking the average from $1.61 to $1.72 per gallon. Premium octane fuel prices have also seen dramatic increases, climbing from $1.77 to $1.88 per gallon.
On top of this, oil production in the United States is down 25 percent since 1987, said Robert Sinclair, a spokesperson for the Automobile Club.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that reformulated gasoline must be used in several U.S. cities including New York, said Sinclair.
The price of regular gasoline has increased by 11 cents a gallon over the past month, according to the Automobile Club of New York.
Reformulated gas contains anti-pollution chemical additives that result in more oxygen being burned. This satisfies the EPA demand that all lead, heavy metals, and detergents be removed.
The American Petroleum Institute reported that the Chevron Company owns exclusive patent rights on a formula for refining reformulated gasoline. Officials said that they are expected to demand royalties on the process, thereby adding between one and six cents to the price per gallon of gasoline.
The main reason for the increase in gasoline prices is that the Organization of Petroleum and Exporting Countries (OPEC) has not increased production, said Public Advocate Mark Green. Green’s office is calling on the federal government to keep pressuring OPEC to take steps toward alleviating the gasoline price boom.
“OPEC could make it cheaper,” said Robert Sinclair, spokesperson for the Automobile Club. “The OPEC oil ministers will meet next week to discuss the situation.”
The United States keeps 600 million barrels of oil in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. As gas prices began to increase in the winter, pressure was put on the government to release this reserve supply, but laws prohibit using the oil for anything but war or a national emergency. High gasoline prices do not constitute a national emergency.
The City Council is considering a temporary repeal of the city gas tax to help alleviate the problem of higher prices.
“I believe that there is price gouging and collusion between the oil companies,” said Rep. Joe Crowley. “During the Gulf War we released oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and prices dropped almost instantly. If oil was released now the price per barrel would decrease $10 overnight.”
City officials agree.
“One of the purposes of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is to protect Americans from market manipulation and artificial shortages created by OPEC,” said Mayor Giuliani.
Councilman Alfonso Stabile is in favor of any measures that would curb the gas crisis, and called the Federal Government “outrageous” for not releasing a portion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
“The Federal Government has to step up and do something for the people,” said Stabile. “We are at the mercy of overseas oil corporations. It’s ridiculous to tell seniors and average Americans to pay two dollars a gallon.”
If a gallon of gas costs $1.92, 52 cents of that goes to taxes.
Councilman Koslowitz hopes that upcoming hearings will address the problem. “Gas is costing the consumer double what it normally costs,” she said. “Between gas and electricity how are people supposed to manage? People use cars for work. A car is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
According to Council officials, there are two million registered vehicles in New York City and the average amount spent annually on gasoline per household is $870. Gas taxes yield nearly $70 million in revenue for the city.
To ensure that consumers would benefit from a tax reduction, Councilman Walter McCaffrey said that gasoline tax cuts must come with an ironclad guarantee to pass the savings to the consumer.
“The person at the pump should see the savings right off the prices,” said McCaffrey. “The gas stations shouldn’t be able to raise the prices after the taxes are suspended.”
SAVING AT THE PUMP
If the tax cuts do not materialize during the summer months, there are other options. The city Department of Consumer Affairs has offered tips that consumers can use to avoid paying astronomically high gas rates.
The first tip to save money on gas prices is to shop around. Scouting for the cheapest prices can save customers a lot of money, especially over time. Properly inflating tires can conserve gasoline. When tires are not properly inflated, more fuel is needed to move the automobile. Speeding dramatically increases the amount of gasoline consumed by the engine of a car.
The Cheapest Gas in Queens
NE Queens – Merit Service Station, 56-01 Flushing – $1.61/$1.81
NW Queens – Brothers Shell Station 31-36 Queens Blvd. LIC $1.65/$1.89
South Queens – Jamaica Service Inc., 184-33 Hollis – $1.69/$1.85
Central Queens – Dry Harbor Service Station, 61-60 Woodhaven Blvd., Rego Park – $1.69/$1.83
The Most Expensive Gas In Queens
NE Queens – Express Auto Center, 161-19 46 Ave., Flushing – $1.99/$2.19
NW Queens – Castoro Service Station, 88-20 Astoria Blvd., Jackson Heights – $1.79 – $1.86
South Queens – Channel Drive Service Station 58-14 Beach Channel Drive – $1.74/$1.85
Central Queens – Woodhaven Service Station, 68-29 Woodhaven Blvd., Rego Park – $1.75/$1.85
Average price of Regular Gasoline – $1.83
Average price of Premium Gasoline – $1.94
Consumer officials insist that regular octane gas is the best choice, unless you own a high performance car that needs higher-octane fuel to operate. Staying away from full service pumps is another way to keep your wallet from thinning out. Full service pumps cost as much as 12 cents extra per gallon.
Speaker Peter Vallone also outlined some additional tips that Queens residents can use to cut their gas expenditures. Vallone suggested taking to a mechanic about the needs of the automobile, to see if a less expensive, lower octane gasoline would be an acceptable alternative to high-octane gasoline.
“With a difference of 15 cents a gallon between high and low octane – you can save enough money for another hundred miles of driving.”
The best way to save money on gas is to not drive at all, added according to the Speaker.
“Take the LIRR or Metro North to the beach this weekend – we have a convenient and affordable public transportation system that will keep you out of holiday traffic and is easy on the pocketbook,” he said.