Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gas pains: Go broke or stay home

Jun 11, 2008 04:30 AM Robyn Doolittle Staff Reporter
Dear Lord, please grant us lower gas prices.

That's the silent prayer being offered at the Peace Lutheran Church in Mississauga, where Pastor Svante Olson speculates that high gas prices are affecting Sunday turnout. Over the last few weeks, attendance has been hitting all-time lows.

"We were averaging about 46 in attendance; (now) with this scam of gas prices, we've been in the mid-30s," Svante said. "And it's certainly not my preaching."

Numbers had already been dwindling at the small congregation as families move out of Mississauga toward more affordable areas, such as Caledon and Milton, he said.

"And now we're being charged an arm and a leg for gas," he said.

It's expensive to drive everywhere, he said, even church.

From churches and charities to your pizza delivery guy, everyone is feeling the gas and oil crunch as prices continue to hover around $1.35 a litre.

On Friday, the Toronto Ride program, which transports about 4,000 elderly clients to primarily medical appointments, voted to increase fees for the first time in four years, says the group's director Sarah Singh.

"It's incredibly difficult. But with the gas the way it is – and we're getting wind it could be $1.50 by late summer – we had to, " she said.

The organization voted to increase fees by 20 per cent in the near future. Right now, a 5-kilometre ride costs about $4.50 and a 10-kilometre ride about $7.50. The tragedy, says Singh, is that when it's a non-profit, there's no customer to off-load the cost.

"We've had to increase our clients' fees, but we are very well aware that the clients that we serve are the more marginalized and can't afford to pay the nominal fees that we charge."
Meals on Wheels is another organization affected by the rising price of gas. In B.C., the Victoria Meals on Wheels announced last week that after 35 years – thanks to gas prices – it was closing down for good.

Here in the GTA, things aren't quite as bad, but they may soon be heading in that general direction.

"All Meals on Wheels programs are going to struggle – struggle like Victoria? No – but we're all going to struggle," said Mirela Giannidis, a co-ordinator for Meals on Wheels in the Parkdale area.

"Some of our volunteer drivers have discussed with me about pulling back their hours. If they're normally doing two 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. shifts, they'll maybe change to one," she said.

Drivers typically receive a stipend to help cover mileage costs. Most volunteers donate the money back, but with costs continuing to climb, Giannidis says she expects this to change.
"It's mainly affecting our volunteers who are on a fixed income, volunteers who are retired. And they have to budget for this extra fuel cost, and where is that coming from?" she said.

Drivers have actually had to ask for additional mileage reimbursement.

To date, there has been no discussion about raising food prices to clients, she said.
"But we may have to look at that down the road," she said. "Then again, we're talking about people with $200 to $300 disposable income each month. How much more can we ask?"
Hot meals currently cost $5 each. The group plans on expanding the number of cycling routes to help with costs.

That's what pizza delivery man Paul Shanmuja plans to do.

"I'm planning to buy a bicycle and deliver that way. Seriously," said the 45-year-old. "Last summer, I was paying at most 30 bucks a week. Now I'm spending more than $40 filling up my tank."

The pizza companies, which are already getting slammed with higher food costs, typically don't compensate their drivers for mileage. Shanmuja already commutes to Mamma's Pizza at Yonge and Adelaide Sts. from Markham five days a week. "It's expensive," he said with exasperation.
At least one real estate agent is hoping to capitalize on this sentiment.

Re/Max agent David Pylyp is offering a prepaid gas card worth $1,000 to anyone who buys a home worth $300,000 or more.

"Some agents are offering cash back, some free furniture. I thought: `People are concerned about gas; about commuting from the 905.' I thought it'd be a nice program for people," he said.
And he's not the only one hopping on the free gas card bandwagon. The Metropolitan is one of several hotels to offer gas cards with reservations. For a one-night stay, starting at $185, travellers get free parking and a $25 Petro card – just ask for the Fuel for Inspiration package.

"We're encouraging people to take a scenic route, drive around Toronto," said spokesperson Sarah Etherden. Driving? For fun? Not at these prices.

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