95th/Dan Ryan: South Siders Dealing with Soaring Gas Prices

95th/Dan Ryan IconBy Megan Fox and Tabitha Hurley
The Red Line Project
Posted: Wednesday, June 1, 2011

As gas prices close in on $5 a gallon in Chicago, residents in and around the Englewood neighborhood are being struck with even higher gas prices than most of the city causing drivers to question when prices will go down.

Englewood resident Ray Winnick, 55, expressed his concern about the rising cost while waiting at the bus stop on 87th and State.

“They’re high, extremely high. What are we gonna do about it? Who knows? When are they gonna go down?” he asked.

In the past weeks, Chicago’s gas prices have become the highest in the nation and low-income drivers on the South Side are being hit harder with higher gas prices than surrounding areas of the city.

By Memorial Day weekend, the cost of unleaded gas per gallon in Chicago was a record high of $4.29, according to ChicagoGasPrices.com. The nation’s average is $3.83 and prices in Indiana, just over the Illinois border, were $4.19.

Industry experts say a combination of high oil costs, oil distribution problems and refinery shutdowns has brought about the continued increase in prices. According to AAA Chicago, the Illinois average for regular unleaded has increased 24 cents in the past month and $1.21 over the past year. 

In addition, City of Chicago and Cook County taxes, as well as an issue at a Joliet ExxonMobil refinery drove local gas station owners to increase their orders of gas for the holiday weekend and raise prices even more.

"Illinois has seen unprecidented rises in gas, faster [and] higher than rest of country," said AAA Chicago spokesperson Beth Mosher. "Distribution problems have hit us hard.

"We think that we've hit our peak, we are sure they will always change, no way to effectively predict. we can go off the trends, demand rises but now they are coming down, no way to effectively predict."

Unfortunately for residents in and around the Englewood area prices are much higher than average with one Shell station charging $4.79 a gallon. This is the case with most gas stations in the area with prices ranging from $4.47 to close to $5.

The average income of an Englewood resident is $18,955, according to the U.S. Census, and the average income of a Mount Greenwood resident is more than $54,000. Gas in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood is as low as $4.39 per gallon, which is cheaper than any gas station in Englewood.

Why are those who earn $30,000 more annually on average paying less for gas than residents in a neighborhood where the poverty level is 46 percent and unemployment rate is 20 percent?

Mike Patel, manager of the Citgo gas station on 82nd and Halsted, said taxes are the reason for the difference in prices.

“It’s taxes, the city has higher taxes than the suburbs," he said. "The tax on gas in the city is 15 percent, 8 percent in the suburbs. Food is 3 percent  and only 1 percent in the suburbs.”

CTA worker Darius Reid, 21, says although prices are high he still plans on driving.

“I can ride the buses and trains for free, but I still like to drive,” he said.

Unlike Reid, not everyone is willing to pay to fill up at the pump as prices get higher. South Side resident Tiara Lipman, 25, said she rides the red line daily and has been doing so since she was a child.

“I think the train is good because it’s a lot more cheaper and a lot faster and less traffic than driving in the car," she said. "I’ve been taking this ever since I was little with my mom so I’m used to the train.”

The CTA has benefitted from the recession and higher gas prices with an increase in ridership. Al Gallagher, a CTA employee of 25 years, admits that ridership fluctuates depending on the ups and downs of the economy.

“I’ve been through a couple of recessions in my time up here," he said. "Ridership has fluctuated many times, especially during recessions.”

CTA Rider Photo

CTA rider Tiffany King pays for a transfer
card to commute downtown. (Photo by Tabitha Hurley)

Around the Englewood area, near 79th and Halsted streets, the 79th Street bus was the No. 1 route in the city with 928,183 riders in the month of March, according to the CTA.

People all over the neighborhood are taking advantage of the convenience and low cost of traveling on the trains including Northern Illinois University student Darius Evans.

“It [the train] is effective for gas prices, but also it is better to commute downtown,” he said.

While drivers hope for prices to drop, BP employee Leo Pathy anticipates the cost of gas to rise even higher by the summer.

“$4.51 for regular, I would say it’s easily going to go to $5 over the summer, at least by the end,” he said.

Map: Locations of high-priced gas stations in and around the Englewood neighborhood as of May 16, 2011.

View Gas Prices in Low Income Neighborhoods in a larger map

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