Sunday, July 3, 2022

Hike in gas prices a blow to rural residents

As COVID restrictions lift, people continue to stay home

  • March 9 2022
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH – The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB) invoked the interrupter clause for gas and diesel prices on March 4, paving the way for severe hikes that have drivers, particularly rural ones, over a barrel.

There’s much to be said for rural living, many of this newspaper’s subscribers would agree, but the cost of transportation isn’t one of them.

Travel is not a luxury for people residing in Guysborough County; it’s a necessity for doctor’s appointments, employment, grocery shopping, school attendance and more. And, with the steep hike in gas prices, that necessity will now take a much bigger chunk out of the household budget.

The Journal surveyed some residents in the Guysborough-Canso area for their reaction to the sticker shock at the gas pump this week.

Family affair

Lori Ann Rhynold of Canso, a mother of five, said she’d be wearing out her shoes, walking wherever she could, but that’s not a viable solution for her in most instances.

She told The Journal in an online message, “As a busy family of seven, the price of gas has a huge impact on us. We live in our car some days, travelling almost weekly to Antigonish for orthodontist appointments and doctor appointments. With this price increase, it will cost $150 to fill my gas tank; this cost and the rising cost of groceries – our last bill at the grocery store was over $600 – our budget has had to almost double to keep up with prices.

“With March break coming up, between skating competitions and hockey tournaments in Halifax, and my oldest taking her lifeguarding nationals in Pictou, it’s a given my gas bill will be at least $1,000 for that week. I honestly don’t know how people travelling to work every day will do it. We will be walking more to local places and staying home to try and offset the prices,” Rhynold wrote.

Councillors’ concerns

It’s a common refrain, when gas prices skyrocket, that the higher price will entice people to use active transport or public transport. In many rural areas, those aren’t options. Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) Deputy Warden Janet Peitzsche discussed the impact a rise in gas prices has in rural communities.

“In my community of Little Dover, we depend on our car/gas for most things, the majority of us travel outside our community for work. If we need a jug of milk, we have to go to Canso; doctors, bank, social events – even though it’s not a long distance to travel – we will have to be very conscious of the number of trips we have to take.

“Our goods and services are going to go up in price with this huge gas hike to a point that our low-income residents may not be able to afford the basics for their families. Going out of the area is now going to have to be a plan and a list,” Peitzsche wrote in an email.

With COVID-19 restrictions lifting, many rural residents were making travel plans to visit children and grandchildren, take in events outside their communities and feed the travel bug. But, wrote Peitzsche, “Not anymore. What I am hearing is people [are] feeling very disappointed that now there is another major issue preventing us from moving, we can’t afford to put gas in the car, and this is a very real problem, as the majority of our community are seniors on pensions and fixed income. The thought is: Are we ever going to get a break?

“This is a concern for me. As I hear these comments, I think of the mental health of our rural area. We have been so conscious of the restrictions of COVID and keeping our communities safe and, as the sun comes out and spring is in the air and COVID hopefully behind us, we give a big sigh of relief, but now another restriction,” wrote Peitzsche, noting that, although the spike in gas prices was a setback, “We have to be grateful that we live in this wonderful area and are safe in our homes and communities, but we know, we need a break, too!”

Mary Desmond, a resident of Upper Big Tracadie and a MODG councillor, said in a written communication, “With all the rising prices in food, cost of living and now gas prices and no increases with social assistance or seniors’ pensions – people will not be going anywhere. Government lifted health restrictions, but is this another hidden way to restrict us to stay home? Because government can alleviate some of this gas pain by cutting some of the gas taxes. Just a thought!”

Intergenerational connection

When it comes to visiting grandchildren, Carmen Barron of Manchester, Guysborough County, has seen COVID-19 impact her biweekly visits with her granddaughter. And, just as that ill-wind seemed about to clear, another storm erupted.

Barron told The Journal, in an online communication, that the spike in gas prices is affecting her family. “We pick up our granddaughter every two weeks. We have for nine years now. It now costs $300 a month in gas for our four trips to Dartmouth. We are going to talk to her over March break about cutting our visit to once a month. To us and to her, that is certainly disheartening. It pains me to even think about it.”

Small cars can’t compensate

High gas prices generally increase sales of small, fuel-efficient cars, but even those owners are feeling the pinch at the pumps this week.

Kate Redfern of Boylston told The Journal in an online communication, “Even with our tiny car, we’re starting to make decisions about where to go based on whether it’s worth the gas. [We] don’t want to go to a store unless we’re already going to be in that area for another errand or work. Going somewhere just to see the sights now feels frivolous and unnecessary. I think prices are really going to affect rural folks a lot, since we have to drive further for so many things, and it’s not realistic or possible to walk or take transit.”

As The Journal goes to press, the price of regular gasoline in Guysborough is $1.87 per litre and diesel is $2 per litre and expected to rise in the coming week.

To follow gas and diesel price trends visit the NSUARB website for gasoline and diesel pricing at https://nsuarb.novascotia.ca/mandates/gasoline-diesel-pricing.