Paying $50 to $100 for a tank of gas is not a fun experience and, according to some gas station managers, customers are letting them know about it.

“The customers are very upset,” said Lisa Brady, co-owner and manager of the Oak Hill Mobil Mart in Scarborough. “They’re mad at us.”

But there is little Brady or any other gas station owner can do to combat the high prices. They are charging what they are being charged by gas suppliers, which has dramatically increased since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.

“We’re being as fair as the day is long as far as our gas price goes,” Brady said.

When the prices go up, “our gross profit margins take a dive,” said Gregg Jones, owner of Jonesy’s Service Center in Cape Elizabeth. “It’s a game, a big chess game for us trying to make money at the end of the month on gas.”

Moreover, Pam Grondin, co-owner of Exxon Village Center Auto Care in Scarborough, who saw a 58-cent increase last week, said she is not expecting gas prices to drop much in the future.

“This is going to be a long haul down south,” she said.

Still she is hearing a mixed response from customers, some of whom understand that she is not driving up the pricing, but others are upset at the increase.

“It’s out of my control,” she said.

Grondin said that as an independent gas station owner she cannot get the pricing scale that gas stations owned by distributors or gas companies get, which is the reason why her fuel is higher than some others in town.

She tries to let customers know when gas is going to increase and keeps the same price throughout the day.

“I try to be fair and accommodating with people, but you can’t make everybody happy,” Grondin said. “It’s a volatile subject.”

Opinions vary

But the prices are not shocking for some customers. Last week a Canadian came to her station and purchased $125 worth of fuel for his camper and was happy to pay the price because it is still significantly less than in his country, she said.

As she filled up her Volkswagen Beetle at Jonesy’s in Cape Elizabeth, Portland resident Rosanne Graef said “given this administration” she wasn’t surprised by the increases in gasoline prices. She didn’t blame the individual gas station owners for the increases, only “opportunists” who were “lining the pockets of big corporations.”

“It’s about time the American people woke up,” Graef said. “The rest of the world has been paying these prices the last 20 years.”

Graef hoped the high prices would make people consider whether they really need a Hummer when they never even see a gravel driveway, let alone use it for off-roading.

Cape resident Dick Kempton said he was not pleased with the rise in gas prices, but it was not affecting his driving habits that much. He said he might think about consolidating smaller trips. “But, if I got to go somewhere I still got to go.”

He was also “suspicious” of the increases and wondered whether it was really the free market driving the prices or “advantageous profit making, if you will.”

He said he’d be happy if the price went down, “But I don’t think it will happen. … I don’t think it will go down in 30-cent increments the way it went up in 30-cent increments.”

Cape native Curt Brown is a lobsterman and commuter student. He said it’s a great time to buy a truck “real cheap.”

“With prices like this people are definitely going to think about what they drive,” he said. But like many people, Brown needs a truck for his livelihood and can feel the effects of high gas prices.

“For people that rely on fuel for their livelihood it comes right out of their bottom line,” he said. Those people can’t control the prices, but they can control what they drive. He said he’d consider buying a hybrid, fuel-efficient truck if one was affordable.

Cape resident Mark Sawyer said he’s considering things he never considered a month ago, such as having his children use the school bus more often, and which car to take on trips – the more comfortable or the more fuel-efficient.

The overall effect of increasing gas prices is not helping business for Oak Hill Mobil. Today people are using credit and debit cards more often because the prices are so high, which in turn is forcing the independently owned business to pay more in fees to credit card companies.

Additionally, customers are telling Brady that they are trying to conserve fuel by taking fewer trips and trying to consolidate their car trips.

“Everyone’s said that in their daily routine they will have to cut back,” Brady said.

Brady also is seeing supply problems and, for the first time since the gas crisis in the early 1980s, she ran out of gas twice last week.

Truckloads of cost

Local trucking businesses are getting on with business while finding ways to conserve fuel and save money in the face of increasing diesel fuel prices.

“It has doubled and in some cases tripled for us,” said Nancy Merry, co-owner of Merry Building Movers.

The North Scarborough-based company moves buildings. Increased gas costs and new business-related costs have forced the company to raise prices.

The company provides project estimates that remain good for several months. That causes problems with sharp fuel price increases, which cost more for the company, which still has to honor the original quote, Merry said.

“It hasn’t really been affecting us a lot,” said Dennis Hall of Black Point Towing in Scarborough. He has upped his towing fees by between $3 and $5. To save money in his personal life, “I’ve been riding my motorcycle to work,” Hall said.

At New England Motor Freight in Scarborough, Terminal Manager Steve Ames has been going out into the yard to remind drivers to shut off their engines while parked.

“We’re doing everything we can to conserve fuel,” he said.

He has been combining multiple freight runs into fewer trips when possible, though sometimes “you got to send a truck to Bangor and a truck to Kittery” and there’s no way to conserve, he said.

The price the company charges includes a variable fuel surcharge set by federal regulators that is intended to help cover fuel costs, Ames said, but he does not know whether it’s enough, because the company’s corporate office in New Jersey handles the fuel purchasing, and arranges for thousands of gallons at a time to be delivered here.

At Northeast Technical Institute’s truck-driver training school in Scarborough, Yard Supervisor Chris Broderick said everything is continuing, though thefts of fuel from the trucks have been a problem all summer. The company is putting in a security system to protect the trucks, and the Scarborough police have been making frequent checks, he said.


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