Monday, June 18, 2007

Gas prices fuel commuting changes

One from my time as an intern.

St. Joseph News-Press

The price of gas doesn't just affect the weekend travel anymore. For some, it has become a decisive factor when it comes to picking careers and homes.
The nationwide average cost per gallon of gas was $3.07 last week, up 17 cents from this time last year, according to the Energy Information Administration. With no end in sight, many commuters are having to make tough decisions.
Chris Shobe, a St. Joseph resident and recruiter for Northwest Missouri State University, commutes to Maryville, Mo., daily.
"For me, it's about a 114-mile drive round trip. My girlfriend commutes to the airport area every day, but car pools with a friend from Platte City," Mr. Shobe said.
Gas prices have played a major role in some of Mr. Shobe's latest decisions.
"I stay in Maryville two nights a week with friends to save money. On average, if I drove every day for a full month, it costs me around $275-plus a month, so staying in Maryville saves me probably around $30 a week."
Mr. Shobe is currently in the process of getting a new job closer to his girlfriend's work. If all goes well, the two of them will leave St. Joseph and buy a house in the Kansas City area to cut down on both their drive times and gas spending.
Andy Clements, with the St. Joseph department of public works, says so far St. Joseph hasn't seen a big impact as far as population and employment are concerned.
"I feel like there is a magic number where people will have to decide if they want to or can afford to drive 'x' amount of miles. Right now, I think people are feeling the pain of gas prices but haven't reached the breaking point," Mr. Clements said.
As of right now, more people commute to St. Joseph than from St. Joseph.
"St. Joseph is an importer of jobs," Mr. Clements said. "We have more people coming in to their jobs than going out. If anything, I would expect the population of St. Joseph to grow because of high gas prices bringing them closer to their jobs."
According to the 2000 census, 43,532 people were traveling into the St. Joseph area for work and 38,519 were commuting out. Of those commuting to the Buchanan County area, 4,770 residents are from Andrew County. A total of 3,385 Buchanan County residents travel to the Kansas City area for work, according to statistics.
One advantage of living in St. Joseph is the shorter commute times compared to larger cities, which means less money spent on gas. The Census Bureau reports that the average commute to work was 23.8 minutes in Missouri, just under the national average of 25.5 minutes. St. Joseph's average commute was 17.4 minutes.
Like Mr. Shobe and his girlfriend, more and more people appear to be looking for cheaper ways of getting to work. The St. Joseph area transit has seen an 18 percent increase in riders during the last year.
Kurt Janicek, manager for city buses, has seen the biggest change recently.
"There are several factors that account for our double-digit growth over the last year but in the past nine months we have seen more people leaving their cars at home," Mr. Janicek said.
The Wire Rope Corporation of America employs many nearby residents as well as many who commute. The company will soon move its administration office to the Kansas City area, forcing some St. Joseph area employees to commute.
"Kansas City area employees are happy about the move and so far we haven't had any unusual complaints from those who will now have to commute," said David Hornaday, manager of marketing for Wire Rope.
"We are making some adjustments to those who will now have to commute so they are helped, such as carpools and one-time adjustments. There are people with family issues such as child care who can get somewhat aggravated, so we are doing some things as far as hours go for them," Mr. Hornaday added.
Gas prices aren't just interfering with people's job and home choices, however, but also where they shop and dine after work.
"The addition of some shopping to St. Joseph has helped, but I still go to Kansas City for other things," Mr. Shobe said.
"But I probably don't go as much as I would if I wasn't commuting everyday."

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