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Peter Rawlings/MEDILL

Drivers wait patiently in line for the chance to fill up at a Mount Prospect gas station. Regular gas at this Costco Wholesale Corp. station is going for $3.90 per gallon; in downtown Chicago it costs $4.49.

High gas prices test Chicago drivers' patience

by Peter Rawlings
March 14, 2012

In suburban Mount Prospect, drivers queue 10 deep, their cars idling as long as 20 minutes for relief from the recent spike in fuel prices. The town's Costco Wholesale Corp. gas station has some of the lowest gas prices in Chicago though they still top $3.90 per gallon.

The price of crude oil has been rising steadily recently, largely due to fears of instability in supplies from the Middle East. “Anytime there's problems in that region the price shoots right up,” said Jeffrey Friedman, a senior commodities broker at RJO Futures in Chicago.

In the Midwest, gas now costs more than $3.80 per gallon on average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. At this time last year the average was down around $3.60 per gallon. The average price has yet to top the 52-week high of more than $4 per gallon reached in May following popular uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

“I expect it to hit more than $5 a gallon before it's done,” said John Legate, who was refueling his SUV at a downtown Chicago gas station where regular unleaded was already going for $4.49 per gallon. “But it's one of those things that I just have to deal with.”

A slight drop in U.S. stockpiles of crude oil also is adding to the price squeeze. During the last month, the amount of gasoline supplied to consumers in the U.S. either through import or domestic production has averaged 8.4 million barrels per day, down more than 7 percent from last year, according to an EIA report released Wednesday.

High prices also have been putting a strain on the city's cab drivers. The United Taxi Drivers' Community Council rallied outside City Hall last week, its drivers protesting that the city's fuel surcharges, which are intended to compensate drivers for their fuel costs, have not kept up with the rising price of gas.

In January the city made permanent a $1 fuel charge on cab rides that had previously gone into effect only when gas prices hovered above a certain threshold. The bill also placed age limits on the cabs themselves and introduced incentives to encourage the use of fuel-efficient vehicles. “These are commonsense reforms that are in line with the interests of cabdrivers, passengers and companies,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (D-9th).

The end may not yet be in sight for Chicago consumers as they make summer travel plans. Midwest gas prices have risen by an average of 24 cents per gallon, or more than 13 percent, between March and September over the last 18 years, as long as the EIA has tracked the figures.

If that continues, motorist Legate's hunch will prove true and he'll be forking over approximately $5.07 per gallon to gas up this summer.