Area workers scramble as gas crunch intensifies

Michelle Duyck drove to more than a dozen gas stations Wednesday before cruising into her driveway, defeated, on fumes.

By Thursday morning, the decorator had canceled a lunch date and was scrambling to find her 8-year-old a ride to his baseball game. Her business, ReDesign Time, was also beginning to suffer.

“I'm just cancelling appointments,” said Duyck, 46, of southeast Charlotte. “If this continues, yeah, it's an issue. You wouldn't want a decorator who can't get to your house.”

The gas-pump panic rippled through Charlotte-area businesses Thursday, with some workers arriving late and taking longer lunches to top off their tanks. Other employers reported a growing interest in carpools or working from home – not to mention the constant buzz in the office about the best place to fill up.

“It's definitely a concern,” said Pete Marco, chief operating officer at Luquire George Andrews, a public relations firm with 45 employees. “You've got a loss of productivity if you're in a gas line for two hours. Instead of focusing on work, you're focused on where to get your next tank of gas.”

Some LGA employees have been carpooling, but many have to drive to see clients, he said. And while the Internet makes it easier to work from home, “it's still best” to be in the office, Marco said.

Shana Kelly, 24, said she planned to carpool to work at Imagine Software in SouthPark, even though she lives just four miles away.

She waited for two hours for gas Wednesday and then, afraid to burn it, skipped a church meeting. Some co-workers at the software developer have been coping more creatively: Her boss filled his car with gas from his lawnmower, she said.

At LendingTree, an online mortgage company headquartered in Ballantyne, some employees have been given laptops to work from home, spokeswoman Allison Vail said. For others there and at companies around town, public transportation has been the answer, they said.

Many major employers, including Wachovia and Bank of America, have offered flexible work weeks and telecommuting programs. Some attorneys at Kilpatrick Stockton, who typically go home for dinner and then return to work, have been bringing their work home and staying, said Lois Colbert, managing partner of the firm's Charlotte office.

Brian Weyeneth, a commercial real estate appraiser at Fred H. Beck & Associates, said he's been working from home rather than driving 25 miles from Gaston County.

At the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, officials compiled a list of employees by ZIP code to help organize carpools, spokeswoman Molly Hedrick said. Managers are offering flexible hours, and some employees are allowed to work from home.

Some companies instituted gas-saving policies long before the current crunch. Charlotte/Douglas International Airport has been managing supplies for months, with modified shuttle routes, increased use of hybrids and no-idling policies, spokeswoman Haley Gentry said.

Not all companies have been affected. Some have come out ahead, such as ZINGO, a designated driver service that picks up customers from bars and events; its motorized scooters get 80 miles a gallon. Because the company uses so little gas, it hasn't had to raise its prices to cover rising costs, like some competitors, said Josh Trammell of ZINGO Charlotte.

Other winners: wrecker companies. Monster Towing of Charlotte has gotten a flood of calls from motorists out of gas, manager Yefry Moran said. The company is fine – its trucks run on diesel, which isn't in short supply – but one element of its service, providing gas to the stranded drivers, is missing.

“We can't do that anymore,” Moran said. “There's no way we can get gas.” Staff writers Jefferson George and Rick Rothacker contributed.

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