Drivers are in the second week of record-high gas prices. The price climbed to $1.76 per litre on January 7, the highest people in the city have ever paid.
Before this recent increase, the highest price was recorded in July 2021 with up to $1.73 per litre.
Although drivers paid $1.69 on Thursday, the increase has impacted many who come from low-income households.
Tonya Simpkin, 45, is one of them. She is a single mother and a differently-abled person, with a 13-year-old child. Her source of income is the provincial Persons With Disabilities (PWD) pension and a small business she runs from home.
For Simpkin, the increase in fuel price means a drastic impact on her life such as raising her child and meeting family.
“I drive a lot because of my business and as I would be spending more money on gas, I won’t have any extra money for raising a child. I cannot just go and buy my child shoes because I have a limited amount of money.”
This morning, gas was $1.69.9 for her at the nearest gas station. It’s 11 kilometres away.
Her preference is to drive to Mission and get cheaper gas as it falls outside the territory of the Greater Vancouver Area but that’s not a regular option.
For Simpkin, who lives below the poverty level, using public transportation is not an option, either. She lives in Whonnock, Maple Ridge and the nearest bus stop is a 3 km walk. The bus comes only every two hours and the distance is too much for her.
“The school is too far for my kid to walk and I cannot afford to pay for the school bus so, I need to drive. Something needs to give and it’s usually my grocery bill that I take money out of because I have to send my child to school,” she shared.
Before the recent hike, Simpkin was paying $300 a month for gas. But she has already maxed out her gas budget before the mid of January.
It’s expected that prices will continue to increase into the month of February. This further strains people living on a pension or earning a low income.
“My kid is turning 14 in March and I can no longer buy a present from the dollar store. I need to get something but I don’t know where I’m going to get it from especially if the price keeps increasing.”
But families aren’t the only ones impacted…
This increase is also affecting those who are still single.
Harriet Chicoine (Sh-kwan), is about to retire from her job as an educational administrator.
Her work requires that she commute five days a week and public transit is not an option. It takes up to two hours, one-way, to reach her destination. So, driving is her only option.
“The increase in gas prices means an additional $100 to $200 per month, on top of rising food costs that equate to [more than] $100. There’s almost nothing left after paying other monthly bills.”
What is the reason behind the gas prices hike?
Krissy Van Loon, communications manager at The British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) shared that multiple factors are at play for this increase in gas price.
“While we don’t have data specifically related to today’s price, we understand that variety of factors including cold temperatures at nearby refineries, storm damage to the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, reduced supply or production due to COVID-19 and change in the cost of crude oil could be influencing the current prices,” she said.
In a report published in March 2021 by BCUC, other factors that could be contributing to the increase in gas prices were noted. Van Loon added that engagements with the fuel industry are ongoing to provide clarity about these factors.
“Specifically, we are working to understand what pricing trends are occurring and why certain market conditions are present in BC. This work is currently ongoing,” she added.
Not everyone is bothered by this change in gas prices. A representative from Alouette Taxi Services operating from Maple Ridge said that their drivers have always paid for gas out of pocket. So, any changes in gas prices do not impact their service or company.
“We don’t control the metre rates, they are controlled by the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD). If 50 per cent of the taxis ask the GVRD for a metre increase then they look at it but it’s never guaranteed,” he said.
There are more taxis in Vancouver than in Maple Ridge and the former controls the prices, according to the company representative.
“In Maple Ridge, we are too small an area to even ask [for a metre increase]. There are more than 500 cabs in Vancouver so, it’s up to them to basically ask for an increase. We just go with the flow.”
The government plan
With the increase in fuel prices and supply chain shortages, food and other items are reaching high prices, too.
We reached out to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation for the government’s plan to accommodate low-income individuals and families.
Seniors and differently-abled residents who live on low-income have the option of a $52 BC Bus Pass or a Transportation Supplement. Residents can switch between the two at any time.
“Crisis Supplement funding is also available for low-income or differently-abled individuals to pay for unexpected expenses or items of need which could include gas, amongst other items, if it’s necessary to address an imminent danger to the physical danger of the individual,” stated Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction
The provincial government is aware of the hike in fuel prices, said Kent Karemaker of B.C. government communications and public engagement.
He attributed the increase to extreme weather in the province which has impacted highway infrastructure and fuel supplies.
“The pandemic has had an impact on all sectors of our economy, including gas prices. This is not a BC-specific phenomenon. With global economic recovery, gas prices are going up across North America,” Karemaker said.
The government has introduced the Fuel Price Transparency Act to ensure residents are provided transparent information about fuel prices. The British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) is conducting a survey to determine the cause of increased prices.