Queens drivers find high gas prices taxing

By cory tischbein

Although Emil Garcia bought his Nissan Pathfinder in 2006 as a gift to himself, he is now unable to drive it because he cannot afford the gasoline needed to keep it running.

Now, Garcia, along with many other Queens residents affected by rising fuel prices, has to cut corners and find an alternative method of getting around.

“I have no choice but to take public transportation now, which adds about an hour to my travel time,” said Garcia, 50, of Elmhurst, who commutes daily from Elmhurst to Bethpage, L.I.

Tammy Chen is also suffering.

“I sold my old Range Rover and bought a used Toyota Camry. It was hard to do, but I couldn't afford the gas for the SUV,” said Chen, 29, of Flushing.

Chen admitted the Camry lacks the luxury of the SUV, but said it is all she can afford.

In an effort to encourage New Yorkers to use public transportation and reduce the number of cars entering midtown, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed for a congestion pricing plan in January that would have charged drivers for entering Manhattan south of 60th Street during the week.

His proposal failed to win support in the state Legislature, but the higher fuel prices have cut down on cars going into Manhattan during peak business hours.

But Jessica Martinez, of Jamaica, still must make the trip.

Martinez, 32, said prices at the pump are outrageous, but she has no choice but to use her car to commute to work.

“I have to drive into Manhattan everyday for work. I'm a camerawoman, so I have to be able to get around quickly at any given moment, and I don't want to depend on buses for that,” Martinez said.

Bobby Hahn, a Flushing resident, said Queens families are bedevilled by a combination of rising rents and higher fuel prices.

“Our family car is rotting away in a garage; we can't afford to use it anymore,” said Hahn, 24.

He works as an accountant's assistant, but even with his help, the Hahn family is unable to afford both rent and gas.

“I take the bus everyday from Flushing to Mineola, and it's a pain, but I have to do what I have to do,” said Hahn.

On June 17, the Rent Guidelines Board approved the largest rent increase for the city's rent-stabilized apartments in 19 years, authorizing hikes of up to 4.5 percent for one-year leases and 8.5 percent for two-year leases.

William Farrell, a psychology professor at Queens College, believes the combination of an increase in rent and gas prices will make gasoline unaffordable for many drivers.

“I expect more and more people to stop driving with gas being so expensive,” Farrell, 38, of Bayside, said.

The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in the United States was $4.09 in June 2008, up from June 2007's $2.96, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy.

The EIA reported that the average price of regular gas in New York City was $4.16 a gallon in June 2008, exceeding the national average by more than a nickel.

Kirk Forrest, 42, of Bayside now takes the bus more often, but still drives occasionally.

“I may drive when I have to do a lot of shopping, but I make sure my shopping list is huge. It's not cheap to drive more than a block anymore,” Forrest said.

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