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Gas prices have more people running on empty

Thursday, April 21, 2011

AAA's Northern California region is seeing a 26% jump this year in calls from people out of gas and in need of help.

Motorists in Fresno, Visalia, and Merced are paying about $4.19 a gallon right now. That's up more than one dollar from a year ago.

At an Arco station off Highway 99 and Avenue 12, the cash price for regular unleaded is $4.03 a gallon. That's below the average price in the Valley, so people here may want to take advantage. But some drivers we spoke with say they can no longer afford to fill up.

Jerrie Tussey barely made it to this Merced gas station, with her tank on empty. She says painfully high gas prices have made it difficult to keep her car running.

"They're crazy," said Tussey. "And I'm a single mom, I have a baby. And I just can't afford it hardly, so I don't go nowhere hardly anymore."

Tussey says she's run out of gas multiple times recently, including just last week when she had to walk home carrying her one year old. And she's not alone.

Performance Towing in Merced received calls Thursday morning from drivers who ran out of gas in Madera, Los Banos, and And Mariposa.

Loie Perry said, "We do fuel deliveries probably three or four times a day."

AAA says it's a growing trend. In the first three months of this year the company had more than 19 thousand calls for gas deliveries in Northern California, Nevada, and Utah. That's up more than 26% from the same time last year.

Jose Plascencia said, "We attribute it to a lot of things. People are running closer to reserves and on empty trying to make their dollar stretch."

Plascencia from AAA says it's a troublesome trend because running on empty can cause damage to cars that's much more expensive to fix than a tank of gas. And it can put drivers in dangerous situations.

Plascencia explained, "Here in the Central Valley if you run out of gas you're out in the middle of nowhere sometimes which can delay our response as far as an emergency tow vehicle, and sometimes you don't have cell phone coverage."

But Tussey says that's a risk she'll continue to take because she can't afford to fill up. She left the station with just over a gallon of gas.

AAA says this area also saw an increasing number of people calling for emergency gas deliveries in March compared to January and February this year. And with prices expected to go even higher, it's a trend that could continue.

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The upward trend at the pump has caught the attention of the justice department.

The Obama Administration announced it's setting up a gas fraud task force to make sure consumers are not being ripped off.

The president was in Reno, Nevada to sell his deficit reduction plan. But with gas prices above the national average there, rising energy costs were front and center.

Obama said, "We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of the American people for their own short-term gain."

For the second time this week, the president also acknowledged there is no silver bullet to bring down those gas prices. He said the only long-term solution is more investment in clean energy.

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A plan to tax oil companies for the crude they extract from the ground in California is being proposed again in the state legislature.

This time money would go to fund education. Similar efforts have been defeated in the past, including last year. Critics say such a tax would only raise gas prices and drive jobs out of state.

A report from the independent legislative analyst's office predicts the 12.5% oil severance tax would bring as much as $3 billion annually for education.

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A South Valley gas station gave its customers a little break at the pump.

Chevron Station near Downtown Visalia discounted gas 10 cents as part of its annual "customer appreciation day."

The business also handed out free chips, hot dogs and a drink. Drivers seemed very appreciative.

The people at the Chevron Station said they're happy to give customers a break.

Rosalinda sorrato said, "They're thanking us for why we are do it because we do appreciate the customers because without them woe wouldn't have no business."

Gas station employees say the discount brought in hundreds more customers than on a typical day.

(Copyright ©2014 KFSN-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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gas prices, north valley, central valley, south valley, local, sara sandrik
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