As gas costs continue to reach unsustainable levels, no one is immune to the pump pain. For those commuting miles to work, all are getting gouged equally.
While the state searches for solutions to the near $7 a gallon price at the pump, people like police officers, delivery drivers and traveling nurses are dealing with this problem on a daily basis.
Ryan Goudy worked four years for the San Jose Police Department. He faced a two and a half hour commute each way from his home in Atascadero. He often stayed in the San Jose area during the week, which meant not seeing his family at the end of the day. With the lack of family time, the rising cost of fuel became the final straw. In April he left SJPD to work closer to home.
“It made it unaffordable,” he told San José Spotlight. “I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Goudy was spending $1,000 a month on gas for his Ford F-150 truck, filling up three times a week. He now has a two-minute commute to the Atascadero Police Department, infrequent stops for gas and time to be with his family.
Gas prices shot up across the country following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. In California, added taxes and fees for environmental regulations and road and bridge repairs push gas prices to the highest in the nation. State gas prices have reached $6.38 on average, according to AAA. That jumps up slightly to $6.45 on average in San Jose.
San Jose police officers who can’t afford to live locally are finding the price at the pump increasingly difficult. Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said the lack of affordable housing plus inflation, crippling grocery bills and the high cost of gasoline pushes first responders further away. Some officers travel several hours a day to work from the Central Valley, Fresno, Sacramento, Hollister and Salinas.
“The gas prices being what they are,” Saggau said, “…for those who can only afford with what they’re paid to live where they live, it just makes it incredibly worse.”
Saggau told San José Spotlight the 50-hour work week plus travel time takes them away from family life, and all that comes with it. Officers miss their children’s school open houses or can’t coach Little League.
“It has this debilitating effect on morale that adds up,” he said.
Shelby Bolduc, a current SJPD officer, understands those long commutes all too well. She has been with the department for four and a half years. When she wanted to buy a home, she had to move to the Central Valley, as living in the Bay Area close to work was unaffordable.
“With how much we make as police officers, there’s no way that I could even think about buying anything,” she said. “Even rent out here is ridiculous. That’s why I have to live in the Central Valley.”
Bolduc previously lived with her parents and had a 20-minute commute. Now she travels more than two hours each way. Although she said her mortgage is probably half of what rent would be in the Bay Area, she is still spending big on fuel.
With “astronomical” gas prices, she pays almost $100 to fill the tank of her Dodge Charger every three days, about $1,000 a month if she fills up 10 times. Even her 12-year-old Ford Fusion commuter car costs $90 to fill up.
Gas accounts for about 10% of her monthly paycheck, Bolduc said. Although she’d like to travel to relieve job stress, she’s limited in how far she can go due to fuel costs.
“It definitely limits what you are able to do for yourself,” she told San José Spotlight. “It would be nice to do more, but you have to work with what you have.”
A new normal?
Allan Kamara, president of the Registered Nurses Professional Association, is also concerned for his nurses who have to drive from far away, including a worker who commutes from Monterey County.
“That’s two hours one way and will cost you about a tank of gas,” he told San José Spotlight.
Kamara said he’s worried rising gas prices may lead nurses to relocate if their pay doesn’t increase, exacerbating the current health care worker shortage. Increasing gas prices are the talk of the breakroom, he said.
“I hope it doesn’t become a new normal, because it’s not going to be sustainable,” he added.
For their mental health, nurses like to travel and see family when they’re off work, Kamara said, but they’re not able to do that due to fuel expenses.
“When they’re off, they like to get out of the house,” he said. “It’s part of their therapy… especially with what nurses have been through in the past two years. Now people are careful where they go.”
Charles Downing, a Home Depot delivery driver in San Jose, said it costs him $230 per day to fill the truck he uses for work and $190 weekly to fill the Chevy Suburban he drives for his large family. Although the cost of gas hasn’t caused him financial hardship yet, Downing said it’s only a matter of time with gas prices continuing to rise.
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]