Asian Reporter web extra, June 27, 2022
How much for gas? Around the world, pain is felt at
By Daniel Niemann, Paola Corona, Jade Le Deley, and Hau Dinh
The Associated Press
COLOGNE, Germany — At a gas station near the Cologne, Germany,
airport, Bernd Mueller watches the digits quickly climb on the pump: 22
euros ($23), 23 euros, 24 euros. The numbers showing how much gasoline
he’s getting rise, too. But much more slowly. Painfully slowly.
"I’m getting rid of my car this October, November," said Mueller, 80.
"I’m retired, and then there’s gas and all that. At some point, you’ve
got to scale back."
Across the globe, drivers like Mueller are rethinking their habits
and personal finances amid skyrocketing prices for gasoline and diesel,
fuelled by Russia’s war in Ukraine and the global rebound from the
COVID-19 pandemic. Energy prices are a key driver of inflation that is
rising worldwide and making the cost of living more expensive.
A motorcycle taxi driver in Vietnam turns off his ride-hailing app
rather than burn precious fuel during rush-hour backups. A French family
scales back ambitions for an August vacation. A graphic designer in
California factors the gas price into the bill for a night out. A mom in
Rome, figuring the cost of driving her son to camp, mentally crosses off
a pizza night.
Decisions across the world’s economy are as varied as the consumers
and countries themselves: Walk more. Dust off that bicycle. Take the
subway, the train, or the bus. Use a lighter touch on the gas pedal to
save fuel. Review that road trip — is it worth it? Or perhaps even go
For the untold millions who don’t have access to adequate public
transportation or otherwise can’t forgo their car, the solution is to
grit their teeth and pay while cutting costs elsewhere.
Nguyen Trong Tuyen, a motorcycle taxi driver working for the Grab
online ride-hailing service in Hanoi, Vietnam, said he’s been simply
switching off the app during rush hour.
"If I get stuck in a traffic jam, the ride fee won’t cover the
gasoline cost for the trip," he said.
Many drivers have been halting their services like Tuyen, making it
difficult for customers to book rides.
In Manila, Ronald Sibeyee used to burn 900 pesos ($16.83) worth of
diesel a day to run his jeepney, a colorfully decorated vehicle popular
for public transportation in the Philippines that evolved from U.S.
military jeeps left behind after World War II. Now, it’s as much as
2,200 pesos ($41.40).
"That should have been our income already. Now there’s nothing, or
whatever is left," he said. His income has fallen about 40% due to the
fuel price hikes.
Gasoline and diesel prices are a complex equation of the cost of
crude oil; taxes; the purchasing power and wealth of individual
countries; government subsidies where they exist; and the cut taken by
middlemen such as refineries. Oil is priced in dollars, so if a country
is an energy importer, the exchange rate plays a role — the recently
weaker euro has helped push up gasoline prices in Europe.
And there’s often geopolitical factors, such as the war in Ukraine.
Buyers shunning Russian barrels and western plans to ban the country’s
oil have jolted energy markets already facing tight supplies from the
rapid pandemic rebound.
There’s a global oil price — around $110 a barrel — but no global
pump price due to taxes and other factors. In Hong Kong and Norway, you
can pay more than $10 per gallon. In Germany, it can be around $7.50 per
gallon, and in France, about $8. While lower fuel taxes mean the U.S.
average for a gallon of gas is somewhat cheaper at $5, it’s still the
first time the price has been that high.
People in poorer countries quickly feel the stress from higher energy
prices, but Europeans and Americans also are being squeezed. Americans
have less access to public transport, and even Europe’s transit networks
don’t reach everyone, particularly those in the countryside.
Charles Dupont, manager of a clothing store in Essonne region south
of Paris, simply has to use his car to commute to work.
"I practice eco-driving, meaning driving slower and avoiding sudden
braking," he said.
Others are doing what they can to cut back. Letizia Cecinelli,
filling her car at a Rome gas station, said she was biking and trying to
reduce car trips "where possible."
"But if I have a kid and I have to take him to camp? I have to do it
by cutting out an extra pizza," she said.
Pump prices can be political dynamite. U.S. President Joe Biden has
pushed for Saudi Arabia to pump more oil to help bring down gas prices.
The U.S. and other countries also have released oil from their strategic
reserves, which helps but isn’t decisive.
Several countries have fuel price caps, including Hungary, where the
discount doesn’t apply to foreign license plates. In Germany, the
government cut taxes by 35 euro cents a liter on gasoline and 17 cents
on diesel, but prices soon began to rise again.
Germany also has introduced a discounted 9-euro monthly ticket for
public transportation, which led to crowded stations and trains on a
recent holiday weekend. But the program only lasts for three months and
is of little use to people in the countryside if there’s no train
In fact, people are pumping just as much gas as they did before the
pandemic, according to Germany’s gas station association.
"People are filling up just as much as before — they’re grumbling but
they’re accepting it," group spokesman Herbert Rabl said.
Is there any relief in sight? A lot depends on how the war in Ukraine
affects global oil markets. Analysts say some Russian oil is almost
certain to be lost to markets because the European Union, Russia’s
biggest and closest customer, has vowed to end most purchases from
Moscow within six months.
Meanwhile, India and China are buying more Russian oil. Europe will
have to get its supply from somewhere else, such as Middle Eastern
exporters. But OPEC+, which includes Russia, has been failing to meet
its production targets.
For many, spending on things like nights out and, in Europe, the
near-religious devotion to extended late summer vacations, are on the
Isabelle Bruno, a teacher in the Paris suburbs, now takes the bus to
the train station instead of making the 10-minute drive.
"My husband and I are really worried about the holidays because we
used to drive our car really often while visiting our family in southern
France," she said. "We will now pay attention to train tickets and use
our car only for short rides."
Leo Theus, a graphic designer from the San Francisco Bay Area city of
Hayward, has to be "strategic" in budgeting gas as he heads to meet
clients — he might not fill the tank all the way. Gas prices in
California are the highest in the U.S., reaching close to $7 per gallon
in some parts of the state.
When it comes to going to a club or bar after work, "you’ve got to
think about gas now, you got to decide, is it really worth it to go out
there or not?" Theus said.
Corona reported from Rome, Le Deley from Paris, and Dinh from Hanoi,
Vietnam. AP reporters Joeal Calupitan in Manila, the Philippines, and
Terry Chea in Oakland, California, contributed.
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