Skyrocketing gasoline prices have grabbed the attention of motorists, school districts and government agencies.
The average price of regular unleaded gasoline in Baton Rouge is $3.65 per gallon, which is 46 cents per gallon higher than one month ago, according to the American Automobile Association’s daily price report.
The price of diesel is $3.98 per gallon, up from $3.73 a month ago and troublesome for public school districts since buses run on diesel.
“Everybody is feeling it,” said Michael Faulk, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and head of the Central school system.
Laquetra Pidgeon, 29, who was getting gasoline Tuesday at a station at Plank Road and Evangeline Street, said filling up her Ford Expedition is out of the question for now. “It would be like $135, $140,” she said.
Thomas Lopez, 41, a long-haul truck driver who lives in Brownsville, Texas, was making a run to Mount Airy, N.C., on Tuesday that will earn him about $4,000.
In normal times gasoline costs would subtract about $1,000 from the $4,000. Now it is about $1,800.
“Fuel prices are like, whoa,” said Lopez, who has been driving trucks for 17 years.
Lopez spent $650 to put 162.5 gallons in his truck at $3.99 per gallon.
He, like others, is unclear on why prices have shot up so fast. “Definitely someone wants to make some money,” Lopez said.
Despite the spike in prices, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system is managing, said Susan Nelson, interim executive director for communications and external affairs.
“In other words, there is a zone within which prices can swing and still be within our budget,” Nelson wrote in an email.
“However, if the prices are expected to exceed, for instance, the highest price last year for a protracted period of time, then we would see some budget impacts,” she said.
Diesel costs for the school system averaged $3.87 per gallon last year and reached a high of $4.06 per gallon.
The high so far this year is $4.07.
Fuel accounts for 14 percent of the district’s transportation budget, or about $3.2 million, Nelson wrote.
Faulk said school systems like Central, which rely on a privatized school bus fleet, depend on contracts that say if gas prices exceed a certain level, operators are automatically reimbursed.
“They have exceeded it,” he said. “It is hitting everybody.”
The national average for regular unleaded gasoline is $3.78 per gallon, up from $3.34 a month ago.
Earlier this month the government increased its forecast for gasoline prices by 11 cents, to an average of $3.55 per gallon.
That would be the second-highest annual average, officials said, behind only last year’s $3.63 per gallon average.
The statewide average is $3.66 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline, up from $3.22 a month ago.
Don Redman, spokesman for AAA in Louisiana, said prices often rise around this time of year when refiners stop putting gas in the inventory while they change from winter grade gasoline to the cleaner-burning summer grade.
But Redman said that often happens in the spring, and the price peak last year was during the first week of April and in 2011 it was May.
“But this is February,” he noted.
The Ascension Parish school system has been able to handle the higher prices, said Johnnie W. Balfantz Jr., public information officer. Officials budgeted diesel fuel at $4 per gallon for its 242 buses rather than the traditional $3.60-$3.75 per gallon, he said.
School boards have more flexibility in their budgets for gasoline price hikes than in the past, said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
However, Richard noted that the state of education finances — state aid for public schools has been generally frozen for four consecutive years — means that higher gasoline prices have an effect.
“It definitely has a negative impact on school board budget processes,” he said.
Lt. Don Kelly, spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department, said his department, like others, buys fuel through the city-parish Department of Public Works, which makes purchases in bulk.
As a result, Kelly said, “the prices we’re paying for fuel aren’t necessarily the same as what you and I pay at the pump to fill up our personal vehicles.”
Capt. Doug Cain, a spokesman for the State Police, said officials are monitoring fuel consumption amid higher prices.
Advocate staff writer Faimon A. Roberts III and The Associated Press contributed to this report.