West Texas Paying through the hosegreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
[Fair Use: For Education and Research Purpose Only]
Paying through the hose Motorists in remote areas of West Texas feeling the sting of rising gas prices
By Scott Parks / The Dallas Morning News
Delores Ballard, the unofficial commuter queen of West Texas, spends a lot more money at the gas pump than she did a year ago.
Cameron Yarborough / DMN Delores Ballard fills up at a station in San Angelo. Mrs. Ballard, a registered nurse, lives in San Angelo and works 300 miles away in Van Horn. She makes the round trip once a week.
Mrs. Ballard, a registered nurse who drives a 1999 Nissan Altima, lives in San Angelo and works 300 miles away at the Culberson Hospital in Van Horn. She makes the round trip once a week. When she's on duty, she lives in a mobile home near the small hospital. She reckons the difference between the dollar-a-gallon gas of a year ago and the current $1.45 price drains an extra $40 a month from her bank account.
"There's not a whole lot I can do, is there?" Mrs. Ballard said. "I can't go on strike or anything."
Compared with urban dwellers, Mrs. Ballard and many other West Texans spend a disproportionate amount of time in their cars and trucks. Medical care, high school sporting events or airline service - not to mention jobs - are often a hundred miles away.
And that means the price of gasoline often falls more heavily on those who move between the far-off places west of Interstate 35.
Daniel Galvan, 24, married with an infant son, typifies the spread-out lifestyle in an underpopulated, remote rural area. Mr. Galvan, a licensed vocational nurse, works with Mrs. Ballard at Culberson Hospital. He lives in Van Horn, but he works two shifts a week at an El Paso hospital. The round trip is 250 miles. So, he regularly puts 500 miles a week on his 1996 Chevy Corsica.
His wife, Nancy Galvan, is a student at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, a Big Bend-area town of 7,500 people. She makes a 120-mile commute from Van Horn twice a week. So, that means 480 miles a week on her 1998 Ford Escort.
Current gas prices have jacked up his cost for a fill-up from about $13 to $20, Mr. Galvan said.
"Oh man, I hate going to the gas station now," he said.
W.Q. Richards, a well-established farmer and rancher in Cottle County, describes rising fuel prices as "more of an aggravation" than a major factor in his personal and business life on the rolling plains west of Wichita Falls.
Mr. Richards says his 11-year-old BMW and a decade-old Chevy van get an unavoidable, daily workout. For example, his tractor dealer and the parts needed to keep farm implements running are 75 miles away in Munday. The family's chiropractor is 90 miles distant.
"We try to save trips, but you can do only so much of that," Mr. Richards said. "The fuel prices are just another lick upside the head with a two-by-four along with the drought."
Shirley Coleman, superintendent of the San Vicente Independent School District near Big Bend National Park, estimates that she puts 35,000 to 40,000 miles a year on her 1995 GMC Suburban. She says the startling rise in gasoline prices is beginning to have an impact on her personal budget and her school budget.
"The last time I filled up, I went, 'Ooooh!' because it seemed like the numbers on the pump kept going around and around and around," she said. "I paid right at $55."
For Ms. Coleman, the nearest grocery store is 110 miles away in Alpine. Her bank is 25 miles away in Terlingua. This weekend, her students will attend an academic competition in Marfa, almost 150 miles away from home.
"What you run down the street to do in Dallas is hundreds of miles for us," Ms. Coleman said.
The American Automobile Association estimates that the price of a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline has risen an average of 5 cents a week since mid-February and could reach $2 a gallon by May.
Some economists believe that $2-a-gallon gas, if it stays that high very long, will drive more Americans into carpools, buses, commuter trains or even battery-powered electric cars.
In West Texas, however, bus systems exist only in Lubbock or Abilene or San Angelo. Commuter trains are nonexistent. And electric cars, with a maximum range of 50 to 100 miles, would be virtually useless in the wide-open spaces.
"We are in one of the most remote areas of Texas, and it's true that we are really dependent on automobiles here," said David Busey, head of economic development in Alpine.
Rising gasoline prices are "just another hardship" for rural people already bypassed by airline and train service, he said. And those hardships often fall disproportionately on low-income people, families and the elderly, he added.
"My dad, who's in his 80s, is a good example," Mr. Busey said. "He has to go to the veteran's hospital in Big Spring five hours away. This is not leisure travel." Consumer advocates recommend that motorists blunt the cost of rising gas prices by keeping tires properly inflated and keeping engines tuned.
But people in West Texas say they already keep their cars and trucks well maintained because no one wants to break down in the middle of nowhere - especially in a "dead zone" where cell phones don't work.
Experts also recommend keeping an eye on traffic flow and timing of traffic signals. Avoid constant accelerating and braking, and decelerate smoothly. Listen to traffic reports to avoid clogged routes with stop-and-go traffic, they advise.
These tips, obviously meant for an urban audience, put a smile on the face of Andrews County Judge Gary Gaston, who lives about 45 miles west of Midland. If he wants to fly somewhere, he uses Midland International Airport.
"It's hard to explain to people what it's like out here," he said. "I can make that 45-mile trip to the airport and not pass 10 or 12 cars on the way."
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), March 09, 2000