UA undeterred by rising gas costs

By J. Ferguson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 7, 2005

As gasoline prices continue to soar, it's not only individuals and small businesses that are clamoring for hybrid vehicles and alternative fuels - UA administrators are also giving prices a closer look.

Despite an annual operating budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, the administration has begun to look at fuel alternatives after the price of gasoline has risen by 37 percent in one year, said Joel Valdez, UA budget director.

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline in Tucson is about $3.04. A year ago, the average price was $1.91 a gallon, said Yvette Lopez, an American Automobile Association spokeswoman.

Tucson prices are in line with the national average, with costs for a gallon averaging at $3.04, Lopez said.

Lopez said the price jumped 30 cents during the weekend, but there are signs that gas prices are going to stabilize. She referred to a decrease in prices of 1.5 cents per gallon overnight.

There has been no immediate change in policies regarding travel or use of university vehicles; however, there are ongoing discussions to minimize costs, including the use of alternative fuels, to save the university money, Valdez said.

"We are looking into biodiesel," Valdez said about replacing some of the UA's current fleet of vehicles with ones that can run on renewable diesel fuel derived from biomass.

The university's operating budget was set more than a year ago by the Arizona Board of Regents, Valdez said, and it reflects much lower estimates for energy costs.

The UA has some financial reserves in case of unexpected expenses but rising energy costs does not warrant tapping the reserves, Valdez said.

"We have reserves but you have to be careful when to use them," Valdez said. "You have to just take it day by day."

Heavy-duty trucks, large passenger vans and the dozens of cars in Facilities Management's rental car fleet run primarily on gasoline and comprise most of the vehicles owned by the UA. They also have several dozen vehicles used for maintenance on campus.

Even though Facilities Management buys gasoline for these vehicles in bulk, the price of gasoline has dramatically risen in the last year, said Albert Tarcola, director of Facilities Management.

Vendors are refusing to put a cap on the rate of increases for bulk purchases, allowing them to adjust prices by the same rate as the open market, Tarcola said.

Because of the increases, Tarcola said the rates departments are billed for renting a vehicle from Facilities Management has also increased.

"It has had a major impact," Tarcola said. "We have had no choice but to raise the rates."

Tarcola said alternative fuel vehicles are growing in numbers in the fleet, a direct reaction to the rising cost of gasoline.

The department owns at least eight Toyota Priuses, a hybrid vehicle that gets more than 50 miles to the gallon, and several trucks that run on propane, Tarcola said.

Tarcola said the Priuses are "pretty efficient" and the department is trying to buy more for the fleet.

Campus organizations to feel strain of costs

The campus shuttle program, CatTran, has also been affected by rising gas prices.

"We have had a 25 to 35 percent increase in our fuel bill for the year," said Patrick Kass, director of Parking and Transportation Services.

PTS will have to make cuts to balance its $12 million budget, but Kass said the shuttle service is not going to be affected.

"We won't reduce service," Kass said. "That is our last resort."


  • Easy does it. You waste gas when accelerating to high speeds from a standstill.
  • Drive smoothly. Let your car coast to a stop to improve gas mileage.
  • Follow the speed limit. Driving 75 mph instead of 65 mph lowers your fuel economy by 10 percent because it means more trips to the gas station.
  • Avoid rush hour. Stop-and-go traffic is bad for mileage.
  • Combine trips. Choose the shortest route and combine short trips.
  • Travel light. A heavier vehicle uses more gas.
  • Keep windows closed. Open windows cause air drag, reducing mileage by 10 percent.
  • Avoid tailgating. Following too closely hurts your gas economy if the driver slows down unexpectedly.
  • Carpool, ride your bike or walk whenever possible. Carpooling just one day a week reduces gasoline consumption as much as 20 percent.
  • Take care of your tires. Properly inflated tires can increase gas mileage by 2 percent.
  • Kass said it is more likely the department will delay the purchase of a new bus or make cuts in other parts of the department's budget before limiting the availability of the service.

    Before any decisions are made about cutting the budget, Kass said, the department is going to monitor the service and gas prices during the next few months to determine the best solution.

    PTS has begun to shift away from conventional gasoline vehicles, opting to use several ethanol-powered vehicles out of its 17-vehicle fleet, Kass said.

    Ethanol is significantly cheaper than gasoline, though Kass said he was unsure by how much.

    Arizona Petroleum gas station, 1015 S. Cherry Ave., is the only place in Southern Arizona that sells ethanol, also known as e85. Ethanol, which is a mixture of 85 percent alcohol and 15 percent gasoline, sells for $2.20 a gallon.

    The effect rising costs of gasoline will have on ASUA's SafeRide program is largely unknown, said Josh Wright, SafeRide director.

    "I am positive it will effect us," said Wright, a public administration graduate student. "How much that change will be I can't say."

    Rising energy costs, Wright said, will not compromise the scope of SafeRide.

    "We will find (additional) alternative funding sources if it becomes an issue," Wright said. "We are committed to the same level of service."

    SafeRide fills their gas tanks at pumps owned by the UA because the cost per gallon is slightly cheaper than consumer prices, Wright said.

    SafeRide's newest acquisitions, two late-model Dodge Caravans, which are Flexible Fuel Vehicles that can run on ethanol, gasoline or a combination of the two, were purchased in part because of their ability to run on alternative fuels.

    A third SafeRide vehicle, a pickup truck, runs on compressed natural gas, Wright said.