Megan is a 23 year old college student who lives in Cedar Rapids Iowa and commutes to Cedar Falls, Iowa every day. That's 120 miles round trip in her Honda Accord--about $400 a month in gas. She started commuting a few years ago when gas prices were lower because she wanted to live at home with her parents and she found she was driving home a lot while paying rent on an apartment. She was able to pay for the commute because she works 30 hours a week at a daycare facility. But then came the run up in gas prices, and though she did her usual thing of putting her gas on a credit card and paying it off, by January her gas bills and other expenses were more than her pay. "This is sad," she says. "Now I'm paying interest on the gas of nineteen percent." She finished the semester with debt of $1000, still accruing interest.
"I think about gas every day. It's not just the financial burden. I feel guilty--like I should be saving gas or letting someone else use it." In the past year she's also spent $2000 in car repairs and when we calculated the total cost of her commute she was surprised that it was more than her tuition. "I knew it was a lot, but I avoided calculating it," she said. But she feels that there's no way to avoid the cost because it's too late to switch schools and there is no bus. She'd like to carpool, but says the university seems to have no facilities to connect its many commuter students.
This summer, she plans to stay close to home so she can pay off last winter's gasoline.