TALLAHASEE -- More motorists are cruising on fumes, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. And it’s costing taxpayers.
Road Ranger records show 2,009 drivers ran out of gas on Florida’s Turnpike during the first three months of 2011.
That’s 228 more vehicles, or 11 percent, more than in the first quarter of last year.
That statewide number almost matches the increase on Interstates 75 and 95 in Broward and I-95 in Palm Beach County, where Road Rangers helped a combined 2,217 motorists get gas in the first three months of this year.
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That’s 221 vehicles more than in the first quarter of last year, about a 10 percent increase, according to FDOT statistics.
Road Rangers typically provide 1 gallon of free gas to stranded drivers, just enough to get them to the nearest gas station, FDOT officials said.
At $3.85 per gallon -- Friday’s average price across Florida for regular gas, according to Gas Buddy.com and AAA -- that’s $7,734.65 of free gas given away by the state since January, and just on the turnpike.
It would cost taxpayers $30,938.60 over the full year, and that’s only if prices don’t continue to rise.
Another $8,535.45 of free fuel was distributed along I-95 and I-75 locally, so far this year, which would add $34,141.80 to the taxpayers’ bill by year’s end, if the price remains steady.
The current $3.85 is $1.02 higher than the average price a year ago, according to GasBuddy.com.
The rise in gas prices may be the reason for the rising number of drivers running on fumes, according to Yoel Banobre, a Sunshine Towing supervisor who’s a Road Ranger in Broward.
“I know they wait until they find a (gas station) |that’s cheap, but driving the extra distance to save a few pennies causes some drivers to run out,” Banobre said.
He’s seen a huge increase in calls for fuel.
“A couple years ago, we used to find (dry tanks) once, maybe twice a day,” he said. “But now we have about 20 gas deliveries (daily).”
Banobre sees no end to the trend. “It’s worse, much worse,” he said.