Gas prices in the Gainesville area are hovering around $4.80 per gallon this week. (WUFT News)

Floridians looking for a way out under record-high fuel prices

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Lilian Zhao, 20, is a senior advertising major student at the University of Florida. She finally received an internship offer from her dream company last week. But, instead of feeling pleased and excited, Lilian is more concerned about how she will cover the lengthy commute from Gainesville to Ocala.

“This program was remote last year,” Zhao said, “I can’t afford to drive one hour and a half every day, especially under this insane price.”

The recent surge in gasoline prices affects everyone’s wallet, but it’s especially challenging for people on fixed incomes and businesses that rely heavily on fuel.

According to AAA, the state average price for gasoline reached a record high of $4.71 per gallon on Thursday. The price per gallon has increased by over 60% compared to the same time last year.

“It’s frustrating that the job still pays the same,” Zhao said. “Settling for a local internship can take a lot of pressure off.”

In Gainesville, as a college town, more students now choose to commute by public transportation or rideshare amid the soaring gas prices. According to the RTS report, as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an uptick in ridership.

Gainesville and UF also launched an electric scooters program under the Micromobility Pilot Program in 2021, patterned with Bird, Veo and Spin, giving people alternative ways to get around.

Although an increasing number of people commute by rideshare, it is difficult for drivers to cover driving expenses.

Espoir Ndandou, 25, is a Lyft driver in Gainesville. “Every morning I wake up to a sky-high gas price,” Ndandou said. “I have no way to predict if I can make any money tomorrow.”

In March, Uber and Lyft both announced a surcharge paid directly to drivers, ranging from $0.45 to $0.55 per ride for Uber customers and $0.55 for Lyft customers.

“The big companies still make the same,” Ndandou said.  He feels like big companies do not care about drivers. According to Ndandou, it would be better to optimize the fuel surcharge subsidy, for example, by adjusting it according to the length of the trip and road conditions.

With fewer students staying in Gainesville during the summer, this is another issue for drivers. “I just try to spend less time on the road,” Ndandou said. “I have to work (more) jobs to cover my expenses.”

Chuan Lu Garden is a Chinese restaurant located in Orlando. The restaurant accepts delivery orders from Gainesville and Ocala every Monday. However, the soaring prices of groceries and fuel make it challenging for restaurants to sustain long-distance takeout orders.

Yan Cai, the manager of Chuan Lu Garden, told me that delivery service is a business that makes the restaurant lose money.

“Many of our old friends order from us,” Cai said. “This service hasn’t shut down mostly because of personal favors.”

Chuan Lu Garden is considering changing the weekly delivery to once every two weeks to reduce the cost. “I hope the hard time ends soon. I don’t know how much longer the business can operate like this,” Cai said.

About Lingshan Liu

Lingshan is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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