Rising gas prices could cost U

Students may see higher bus fares and transportation fees.

by Anna Ewart

The price of regular unleaded gas reached a record high in the Twin Cities last month, when the average price was about $4 per gallon, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

Although average prices were down to $3.94 on Tuesday, they’re still up about 87 cents from last year at this time.

From average residents to large academic institutions, everyone is feeling the burn of rising gas prices.

Bus Fares

On Monday, the Metropolitan Council began holding public hearings on a proposal to increase city transit fares.

The council says fare hikes are necessary to combat rising fuel prices and declining motor vehicle sales tax revenue.

If fully implemented, the proposal would increase bus fares by 25 cents on Oct. 1 and leave room for an additional 50-cent increase next year. Passengers would also be charged morning rush-hour fares half an hour earlier, starting at 5:30 a.m.

Bob Baker, director of the University’s Parking and Transportation Services , said the University is in negotiations with Metro Transit. Bus pass prices will likely increase this fall, partly because of rising gas prices, he said.

Exact prices have not been announced yet.

“For both U-Pass and Metropass , we are expecting price hikes in the contract cost,” Baker said.

Last fall, U-Passes cost $64 for the semester, while the average monthly bus pass from Metro Transit costs $76, according to Parking and Transportation Services .

Political science junior Christa Nicols said increased fares would be miniscule compared to what drivers pay.

“I wouldn’t mind paying more for my U-Pass,” Nicols said, saying she gets a lot of use out of it.

Campus Transit Costs

Although campus shuttles are free, fuel does play a role in the cost to the University. As a result, Baker said it will be paying more for fuel.

Students may not notice a difference this year, Baker said, but it’s likely that the $16 student transportation fee could increase in fall of 2009.

“We may end up having to increase those fees more than we anticipated because of the gas costs,” Baker said.

The cost of moving materials, not just people, also adds up.

Fleet Services rents and leases vehicles to University departments. Bill Roberts, director of Fleet Services , said they pump about 300,000 gallons of fuel a year.

Departments that use the fleet’s vehicles saw an increase in mileage charges at the beginning of this fiscal year, which started July 1 , Roberts said.

On average, that charge increased by 9 percent and Roberts said it may increase even more soon.

“We did our budgeting assuming that the cost of fuel would be $3.50 a gallon, and we’re starting the year at a price even higher than that,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to raise our rates more than we originally budgeted.”

However, Fleet Services is considering other options to reduce costs. It is considering banding together with other government agencies for greater purchasing power, which could involve making a deal to get fixed fuel prices, he said.

Hybrid cars are another option.

Roberts said there are about 875 vehicles in the entire University Fleet and about 55 hybrids, including a Toyota Prius, which is one of two cars leased by The Minnesota Daily.

Although the hybrids use less gas, many vehicles in the fleet can’t be replaced by smaller cars because they are needed for certain kinds of work.

“It’s not like you can take a three-quarter-ton pickup truck and get rid of it and decide to buy a Prius,” he said.