NU prices may rise due to high gas costs

Lauren Pond

Students may soon feel the effects of high gas prices in more places than the pump.

Rising gas prices may lead to higher food prices at Northwestern next quarter, according to Paul Komelasky, district manager of SodexhoUSA. The hikes in gas costs could also affect campus shuttle services, bookstore shipments and van rentals.

To compensate for the rising cost of the diesel fuel used in food delivery trucks, food companies are charging $10 to $30 extra for each delivery, Komelasky said. While the university is now absorbing the cost, they may soon have to raise food prices instead, he said.

Prices on every a la carte item from cereal to stir fry could increase from five to 10 cents next quarter, Komelasky said. He added that meal plan prices are fixed for the year, but could change next year.

“This is not something that’s just really limited to our campus here,” Komelasky said. “This is across the country. Everybody’s seeing this kind of issue.”

After climbing all summer, gas prices spiked after Hurricanes Katrina, which damaged several oil refineries along the Gulf Coast.

Gas hit its highest recorded price in the Chicago area at $3.11 per gallon on Sept. 3, five days after the hurricane hit, according to AAA’s Web site. Diesel prices continue to climb, reaching their highest recorded levels Monday at $3.19 per gallon.

Food price increases will primarily affect off-campus students and staff who come to campus to purchase food, Komelasky said.

Weinberg freshman Erin Reynolds said higher food prices might cause her to be more selective when purchasing a la carte items.

“I’ll probably have to stick to eating meals at the cafeterias, because buying food at Norris costs points, and points equal dollars,” she said.

Student groups that rent vans for trips could also feel the effects of increased gas prices.

NU pays for two tanks of gas for up to two vans for student group trips, said Joyce Oakes, an assistant in the recreation and athletics department. Any extra gas is paid for by the group itself.

Clubs shouldn’t have a problem if they have managed their accounts well, Oakes said. She added that student groups aren’t allowed to travel more than 600 miles round-trip, which two tanks of gas should cover.

Communication senior Bri Perlman, president of the NU crew team, said her team takes between five and seven vans to each race. The team fills up the vans at least once during each race, and they have four faces outside of Evanston this fall.

The team is spending more money on gas than it has in past years, Perlman said.

“We could have lowered our dues for our members, we could have put it towards updating our equipment – gas money could have gone a lot of places,” she said.

The increase could even affect prices of merchandise purchased from the Norris Center Bookstore Web site.

If gas prices continue to rise and orders from the site increase, the store may have to raise its shipping fees to cover increased delivery charges, said General Manager Linda Fish.

The bookstore currently sends out about 10 packages a day and charges $6.95 in shipping fees for the first item and $1.95 for each additional item.

Fish said she would try to keep fees down unless the store incurs extra shipping expenses.

“I’d rather have the customers,” she said.

On-campus and intercampus shuttle services will probably be affected by gas prices when NU’s two-year contract with Royal American Charter Lines expires in Sept. 2006, said Debra Garfi, senior manager of university services.

The university could cut back on the shuttle routes that aren’t frequently used, she said.

“It’s like any other business: The more it costs to provide the service, the more we can expect to pay for it,” she said.

Garfi said she didn’t forsee charging students for the service, but couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t happen after the university negotiates a new contract.

Royal American can’t charge NU more to use its shuttles while the contract is still good, Royal American General Manager Jennifer Gregory said. For now, the company has to cover increased fuel costs by itself.

“We’re just eating it up,” she said.

Reach Lauren Pond at [email protected]