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Arizona Drivers React to Rising Cost of Fuel


There is one sure way to spend less money on gas: drive less. But in places where it's not easy to drive less, inventive people are finding other ways to ease the pain at the pump. NPR's Ted Robbins found some citizens of Arizona trying out new fuels, or just picking up a little extra sympathy.

Unidentified Male: (unintelligible).

TED ROBBINS reporting:

Pity the poor pizza delivery driver.

Unidentified Male: You got take the deliveries as they fall.

ROBBINS: And you don't get paid anymore whether they're two miles or ten miles away. Matthew Cable(ph) $6.50 an hour at Fresco Pizzeria in Tucson, plus $0.70 per delivery. The owners raised that a dime in the last year, but that gain has been wiped out in the last month.

Mr. MATTHEW CABLE (Pizza Delivery Driver): It went from, you know, coming out a little on top, to maybe breaking even, or, you know, not paying for our gas anymore.

ROBBINS: At least customers are sympathizing. Cable says they're giving him bigger tips. He's also stopped driving his Toyota Tacoma truck, and bought a fuel efficient Honda Civic.

Mr. CABLE: I mean, it was like basically getting a $3,000.00 a year raise, just by going from a Tacoma to a Civic.

ROBBINS: Up the road in Phoenix, Steve Yee is not about to get rid of his three and a half ton Humvee.

Mr. STEVE YEE (Arizona Hummer Owners Group): We're in a 1997 and a half H1. This is the, basically the civilianized version of the military vehicle that was popularized during the first Iraq war.

ROBBINS: Steve Yee not only drives this behemoth around the sprawling Phoenix metropolis, he's co-founder of the Arizona Hummer Owners Group, a club that organizes off-road adventures. The government considers the H1 a truck, so it doesn't even calculate a miles-per-gallon figure. Steve Yee says the average Hummer owner doesn't really need to worry about such things.

Mr. YEE: H1 owners have a tendency to have a humungous amount of disposable income.

ROBBINS: But before you go on thinking Steve Yee is an energy hog who doesn't care about the planet, here's a twist; he runs his Humvee on bio diesel, domestically produced from any fat or oil, usually vegetable oil. It's petroleum-free, and clean burning.

Mr. YEE: I'm an asthmatic and with bio diesel I get an emission out of my diesel vehicle that does not irritate my lungs. So it's great for the environment, it is great for the United States of America, because of the fact that it helps support the farmers.

ROBBINS: Steve Yee likes defying the stereotype. In fact, he says he takes pleasure in confusing people.

Mr. YEE: Here you are, you've got this huge three and a half ton vehicle, and you're being environmentally friendly at the same time.

ROBBINS: Here's another surprise. These days, it's cheaper for Steve Yee to drive his Hummer than it is for his wife to drive her BMW. Gasoline is $3.00 a gallon; bio diesel is only $2.64. There's only one station in Phoenix, so Steve Yee fills drums with the stuff, and stores it at home. Bio diesel provides him with an option he wishes more people would demand.

Mr. YEE: If we could totally get off of our dependence of foreign oil, that would be wonderful.

ROBBINS: That's still a pipedream for most people who fill up at the nearest gas pump and pay higher prices. Those costs, of course, get passed on. Airlines charge customers more. School districts with bus fleets may have to raise takes. And employees? Well, we try to get it back from out employers.

And just for the record, reporting this story took about a full tank of gas at about $3.00 a gallon. Ted Robbins, NPR News, filing an expense report for 285 miles, driving round trip between Tucson and Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.

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