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Business

Soaring Gas Prices Fuel Higher Demand for Santa Barbara Transit Services

MTD and Santa Barbara Airbus are keeping pace, but nonprofit Easy Lift Transportation is exhausting its resources and still must turn people away

Gas prices made a historic jump in the past month, and some Santa Barbara businesses and organizations have been forced to adapt.

Santa Barbara experienced a 52.8-cent surge to $4.48 a gallon since mid-February, according to GasBuddy.com.

For the nonprofit Easy Lift Transportation, higher gas prices mean higher demand that is exhausting resources, according to Executive Director Ernesto Paredes.

“We take for granted popping in our car and driving where we need to, but some seniors have to plan their whole day around transportation, and Easy Lift is their access to the community,” he said. “We’re turning away about 200 people right now every month. My wish right now is that we have five to 10 more vehicles to meet that demand.”

Paredes said more people are requesting rides because volunteers can’t afford to drive their friends around anymore, but he said Easy Lift can’t raise prices because it’s difficult to afford the $7 round trip as it is.

Easy Lift has implemented a new scheduling software that improves its efficiency to combat higher demand. Paredes also allocated more money based on last year’s gas prices.

“We spend more than $200,000 a year on fuel. We’re a smaller agency and adding 40 cents to every gallon can throw off the math,” said Paredes, who is hopeful Easy Lift will finish the year on budget despite netting significant losses during the past several months.

In terms of alternate fuel vehicles, Easy Lift has partnered with the Community Environmental Council to purchase a vehicle on a trial basis. If they can prove a long-term gain, Paredes said, they can use that to lobby Caltrans for a grant.

The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District has also seen an increase in ridership. An additional 72,000 passengers, or 11.3 percent, used MTD last month, according to Dave Damiano, MTD’s manager of transit development.

“More people turn to public transportation, and I think that trend is going to continue,” he said, adding that MTD uses 615,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year.

Although increasing fuel prices haven’t impacted MTD’s services much, its two-year contract expires this spring. In 2010, it was able to purchase gas at $2.50 a gallon, but Damiano said he expects that will raise to $3.50 a gallon and MTD may have to cut back services.

MTD recently began testing a 62-foot blue “bendy” bus on its overcrowded routes. The Nova articulated bus, which is on loan, has 80 seats and a total capacity of 112, compared with 62 in a typical 40-foot bus.

Santa Barbara Airbus also has been impacted by record gas prices, but those have been offset by increased demand, according to Executive Director Eric Onnen.

“The LAX service has increased in volume from the previous year, and we think part of that is related to the cost of driving,” he said.

Airbus uses $500,000 Motor Coach Industries motor coaches that get about seven miles to the gallon. In order to combat fuel costs, drivers are idling less, according to Onnen.

“Vehicles standing at idle consume a lot of fuel, and we’re trying to be more cognitive about the time a vehicle is running when it’s not going somewhere,” he said.

According to GasBuddy.com, residents in Santa Barbara can find the least expensive gas at Educated Car Wash at 3735 State St. at $4.22 a gallon. The next least expensive station is the 76 station at 4401 Via Real at $4.29 and the Shell at 5097 Hollister Ave.at $4.35. An unleaded gallon of gas is $4.35 at the ARCO at 1116 Casitas Pass Road, the Conserv Fuel at 150 S. La Cumbre Road, the Valero at 5661 Calle Real and the ARCO at 3618 State St.

The least expensive diesel fuel is at the USA Gasoline stations at 636 W. Carrillo St. and 340 W. Carrillo St. at $4.31. The most expensive station is listed as the Mobil on Glen Annie Road, with gas priced at $4.79 a gallon.

A barrel of crude oil was going for $105.93 on Thursday. The average price of a gallon of unleaded gas was $4.002 this time last year and $4.279 a week ago.

But prices may drop if wholesale prices remain low, according to Auto Club of Southern California spokesman Jeff Spring.

“California’s wholesale gasoline prices have reportedly dropped by 50 cents from their high point reached in February, so if that drop sticks, cheaper gasoline should soon be making its way to the pumps,” he said. “However, we know that prices are particularly volatile in the spring and any incident relating to supply could send wholesale prices back up.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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