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As Tampa Bay gas prices near $4.50 a gallon, motorists feel the pinch

While gas prices are higher now than at the previous record in 2008, the impacts might not be as widespread.
A regular unleaded gas is priced at $4.49 per gallon at this Shell gas station in Tampa on Tuesday.
A regular unleaded gas is priced at $4.49 per gallon at this Shell gas station in Tampa on Tuesday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Mar. 11|Updated Mar. 11

Carlos Carrillo hadn’t thought about raising prices on his food truck’s menu last week.

Even as inflation causes prices to spike over the last few months, Carrillo said Coco’s Latin Cuisine has been busy enough that he felt financially stable. But with the recent surge in gasoline prices this week, that’s no longer the case. On Monday, he bumped menu prices up 20 percent.

“It’s definitely beating up our margins,” Carrillo told the Tampa Bay Times.

Gas prices around the nation have risen sharply since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The White House announced Tuesday the U.S. will ban Russian oil to deprive Vladimir Putin “of the economic resources he uses to continue his needless war of choice.” Russia accounts for nearly 12 percent of global oil trade, according to the International Energy Agency.

Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, gas prices in Florida have shot up by more than 87 cents. The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline in the Tampa Bay area was $4.40 on Friday, according to AAA The Auto Group. Current prices have surpassed the record set in July 2008. The national average was $4.33 and Florida was slightly above at $4.37.

Related: Florida gas prices: Money-saving tips for your emotional breakdown

“A $32 increase in the price of crude oil translates to 80 cents at the pump,” AAA spokesperson Mark Jenkins said. “A 35 percent increase is very significant.”

The war in Ukraine is intensifying the supply issue, Jenkins said. Many countries reduced their oil supply during the pandemic because demand plummeted and they haven’t increased supply even as people started driving more again.

Gas prices are “extremely volatile right now,” Jenkins said. Even though the U.S. isn’t necessarily dependent on Russian oil, he said many countries are now competing to find new supply. Bidding wars are driving up the price.

Hillsborough County had the highest average prices in the region at $4.40, based on AAA data. Pinellas and Pasco counties were both at $4.39. And Jenkins said it’s hard to predict how long this surge will continue — it depends on a variety of factors, like how long the war in Ukraine lasts and what the fallout from it will be.

Carrillo said he’s trying to plan how to adjust his food truck business for the rest of the year but the volatility is difficult. He regularly drives 70 miles roundtrip and is considering limiting trips to places like Sarasota or Lakeland. Food costs will also likely rise due to fuel increases, Carrillo said.

“If fuel cost me $3 a month ago and it might be $6 next February, we don’t know,” Carrillo said. “Those are the kinds of things that definitely hurt.”

Cars wait in line at a Costco gas station at the corner of W Linebaugh Ave and Sheldon Rd where gas costs over $4.00 per gallon for on Thursday, March 10, 2022 in Tampa, Fla.
Cars wait in line at a Costco gas station at the corner of W Linebaugh Ave and Sheldon Rd where gas costs over $4.00 per gallon for on Thursday, March 10, 2022 in Tampa, Fla. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
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For many Americans, $4 is a “tipping point,” according to a AAA survey released Thursday. If gas prices reach $5, then 75 percent of respondents said they would have to adjust their lifestyle to cut costs. Many said they would drive less and some would carpool more or combine tasks on a single trip.

The Florida Legislature voted to suspend gas taxes, but the relief consumers may feel won’t start until October if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the bill into law. Lawmakers said they chose October because it’s one of the months with the fewest tourists visiting the state.

While gas prices are higher than in 2008, the impacts might not be as widespread, Jenkins said. Most Americans have better spending power now than 15 years ago. Remote and hybrid work options mean fewer people are commuting on a daily basis.

While it’s hard to save money at the pump right now, there are ways to cut back. Jenkins said consumers should consider how they choose to pay. Many stations charge more for using a credit or debit card over cash. He said drivers should take advantage of rewards programs that could help save several cents per gallon or buying from wholesalers like Costco.

The type of fuel also matters.

“Some people might think filling up with mid-grade or premium gasoline is like taking your car to the spa or giving it a treat,” Jenkins said. “You’re actually just burning your money. Just fill up your vehicle with the gasoline that your vehicle manufacturer calls for.”

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