Increasing gas prices impact Summit County rideshare companies

Most owners say they aren’t planning to increase their prices but that if prices continue to rise, they might have to

Tim Robertson fills up his Toyota Tacoma at the Exxon gas station off of North Summit Boulevard in Frisco on Saturday, April 2, 2022. A resident of Orange County California, Robertson said gas is actually cheaper in Summit County than they are back home, even though prices locally have risen as high as $4.40 per gallon, up from a countywide average of $3.18 per gallon in May of last year, according to AAA.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

In May 2021, gas prices in Summit County were sitting at about $3.18 per gallon. As of Saturday, April 2, AAA Colorado’s website says that the county’s average gas price is sitting at about $4.16, nearly a whole dollar more than what it was close to a year ago. At the Exxon gas station off of North Summit Boulevard in Frisco, gas hit $4.40 per gallon at noon Saturday, April 2.

While locals and visitors are certainly feeling this jump in their pocketbooks, rideshare companies are taking a hit too.

Ken Bell, owner of Ski Lift Limousine based in Breckenridge, offers rides to and from the airport as well as around the community. He has three vehicles in his fleet and said that he’s paying about $20 to $25 more at the pump than what he was a month or so ago.

While he’s not immediately planning to raise his prices, Bell said he’s keeping an eye on what’s happening at these stations.

“I think folks like myself who have chosen to eat the cost will have to slowly raise that if prices don’t come down,” Bell said.

Bell said he typically tries to fill up in Denver because gas is a bit cheaper on the Front Range. According to AAA Colorado, Denver County’s gas costs an average of $3.96 per gallon, which is close to the state’s average of $3.98.

Typically he uses the app Gas Buddy if he’s looking to fill up in the county. The app tells him which gas stations nearby have the cheapest fuel.

A gas pump at the Exxon gas station off of North Summit Boulevard in Frisco shows regular gasoline about $4.40 per gallon on Saturday, April 2, 2022. Statewide gas prices averaged about
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

Andrew Siegel also uses Gas Buddy to fill up, and he said he typically frequents City Market’s pumps the most. Siegel recently launched the rideshare service Summit Black Car and began offering rides within the last few weeks. Most of the rides he offers are within the county, but he still has to fill up his SUV every few days, which costs about $120 right now.

Siegel said he’s hesitant to raise costs for customers too, even though he’s seen other services like Uber and Lyft implement those measures. Instead, he’s hoping to curb the issue with an investment in his business. Earlier this year, he placed an order for a Tesla, which he plans to use to lower long-term fuel costs.

“Even for personal use and business use, purchasing an electric vehicle for around-town use would make a lot of sense,” Siegel said. “My girlfriend had just bought a hybrid jeep, and she was driving around town on all electric. It just made a lot of sense, especially with gas prices going up and not knowing how long those gas prices are going to stay up.”

Though he’s not scheduled to get his vehicle in until summer, the investment seems to be a worthy one. Skyler McKinley of AAA Colorado predicted that prices wouldn’t be climbing as quickly as they have over the past month or so, but he added that they likely won’t decline anytime soon either.

“I anticipate that prices will continue to rise in 2022,” McKinley said. “They are probably going to hit their peak for the year in the summer. They are probably going to sit north of $4 for much of the year. We are just living in a time of expensive gas prices as a function of three years of extraordinary history being made in front of us from the pandemic to what’s going on in Europe.”

McKinley said the spike in fuel costs largely has to do with the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and a renewed interest in traveling domestically, coupled with the fact that production of fuel is still lagging from pausing operations during the beginning of the pandemic.

“Taking a step back and looking at the past month, there’s really one simple word to describe what’s going on, and that’s volatility,” McKinley said.

All of these factors creates a perfect storm for why prices are so high right now, and McKinley said there is not much national leaders can do to alleviate the burden on Americans. Recently, President Joe Biden announced the release of 1 million barrels of oil per day from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve for six months, which McKinley said could help, although, it’s not necessarily sustainable.

“When there’s that sort of pocketbook issue, gas prices tend to get politicized, and I would say, as somebody who studies gas prices, there’s really not a lot any president or any congress or any governor or any legislature can do to make gas prices more palatable,” McKinley said. “It is all the free market. It is all a global market. What happens in Kyiv matters in Kansas City.”

In the meantime, drivers can reduce costs by carpooling or using public transportation. Erwin Germain, who recently launched TreadShare last year, said this is what his rideshare service aims to do. The app connects drivers with others looking to travel to the same area who are willing to pay a fee to accompany them on their ride to or from the mountains.

“We designed the app to share the cost of driving, which includes the gas expenses, so carpooling with TreadShare would completely absorb the gas price increase, for both passengers and drivers,” Germain said in an email.

In November the app officially went live, and Germain said it booked 160 rides over the winter, most of which were due to ski traffic.

In general, Bell pointed out that whether people choose to drive their own vehicles or get a rideshare service, they are paying for fuel prices either way, especially visitors who are renting a car and driving from the Front Range to Summit County. For now, companies like his plan to hold steady and brace for higher prices that are likely to come later this year.

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