By Casey Tolliver

Alex Padon liked his well-paying job at a major electronics retail store in Lexington, but it has recently become necessary for him to give that job up and scour Richmond for work because of the high gas prices.”It was costing me 40 percent of my paycheck to drive up and back,” Padon said. “It eventually took such a toll on me, that I had to look for local employment.”

Forced by high gas prices, Padon reluctantly quit his retail job and is now looking for work in Richmond, a decision that he expects will further affect his finances.

“The employment opportunities in Lexington are better than the employment in the Richmond area,” Padon said. “I enjoyed what I did. The job markets in Richmond aren’t high paying.”

For Padon and other students who rely on their cars to get them home, to school or to their jobs, the rising cost of fuel has caused many to make major changes to their driving routines.

And unlike many earlier spikes in gas prices, the most recent hikes are not projected to ebb anytime soon.

Gas prices are projected to peak near $3.50 per gallon in May and June and may possibly reach more than $4 per gallon in some regions, said the Energy Information Administration’s Website.

The influx in the price of gas has not only affected students as far as employment is concerned, but also in the most personal aspects of their private lives.

Eastern student Brandi Phelps used to drive home several times a week, making the trips to Somerset to care for her mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

But the recent spike in the cost of gas has forced Phelps to cut back on her frequents trips back home, reducing the amount of time she has to spend with her mother.

“Last semester, I used to drive home a lot during the week,” Phelps said. “Now I have to wait until the weekend.”

Some analysts said the rise in gas prices is due to recent increases in oil prices; others disagree and blame it on the weakness of the dollar.

Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates, said he believes that it may be a combination of both.

“It’s a myriad of things,” Ritterbusch said. “The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is only one reason for the rise in gas prices. There are seven or eight other reasons, such as an emerging demand from China and India and other geo-political issues. And there are also a lot of investment factors.”

The EIA has acknowledged the OPEC, which regulates the price of crude oil, as a contributor to the rise in gas prices and that gasoline prices are driven by the change in crude oil prices and wholesale margin, the EIA said on its Web site.

However, OPEC says the variations in gasoline prices are not due to differences in crude prices, but to widely varying levels of taxation in the major consuming nations.

Regardless of who or what is to blame, the one thing that most agree on is that the high gas prices will more than likely continue to climb before they come back down to earth.

“I drive a pretty gas-efficient vehicle,” said Newport resident and broadcast major Jeff Sivers. “I went from spending $25 to $30 to fill my car up. Driving for two weeks on $30 isn’t too bad, but if it gets to be four or five bucks a gallon, I’ll be pissed.”

For Eastern students driving less economical vehicles, other options are available to help provide some relief.

“Every consumer can conserve by driving less, or by taking mass transit,” Ritterbusch said. “It can make a big difference.”

Eastern students have the option of walking or bicycling more often, and those living on campus can take advantage of the shuttle service provided by the university to help lessen dependence on motor vehicles.

“Last summer, I bought a motorcycle to save money on gas,” Padon said. “By driving it last summer, I actually paid for the motorcycle three times over.”

However, in instances where walking and cycling to a location is not a reasonable option, or the destination is not included on the shuttle route, many students find they don’t have a choice but to drive-and endure whatever price they find at the pump.

“My spring break was horrible,” Phelps said. “I stayed at home all week and did pretty much nothing, and I’m so used to going to the beach.