CHICAGO — It seems that every time you turn on the news or pick up a newspaper, there’s a story about how gas prices are dropping — a ray of hope in turbulent economic times. But is all that just a tease?Taking into consideration things such as weather and usage, nearly 78% of respondents to American Coin-Op’s most recent Wire survey say their average winter gas bills are not any lower than ones they received in 2007-2008. Nineteen percent have seen their bills drop.Forty-three percent of those experiencing a decrease in natural gas bills have seen an average drop of 6-10%. Twenty-eight percent of respondents have seen their bills drop 1-5% and 28% of respondents have seen a drop of more than 20%.For those with higher bills, the picture is a bit more jumbled. Thirty-two percent of respondents have seen increases of 1-5%, while 25% have seen gas bills rise 6-10% compared to last winter. The scary thing is that 21% have seen increases of 16-20%, and 18% have seen an increase of more than 20%.With so many reports about lower gas prices and bills circulating, one can only assume that operators were aware of the stories. But did they believe them? Fifty-five percent of respondents expected lower bills, while 36% didn’t believe the hype. Eight percent weren’t sure about what to expect.We wanted to give self-service laundry operators a chance to share their side of the story, so we listed four statements about the winter gas bill situation and asked them to pick the one that best describes their gas bill situation. Thirty-nine percent chose “Same old story, nothing ever changes.” Thirty-one percent opted for “I can’t believe that my bills are higher than last year,” and 5.6% selected “I’m surprised — the bills are down from last year.” Only 3% chose “My efficiency efforts have helped a bit.”Twenty-two percent of respondents submitted their own statements. One respondent says, “My gas bills are down due to lower sales.” Another says gas bills are up 10%, but sales are up 30%.Subscribers to American Coin-Op’s Wire e-mails — distributed weekly — are invited to participate in an industry survey each month. The survey is conducted online via a partner website. Each survey is developed so it can be completed in 10 minutes or less. Readers are encouraged to participate, as a greater number of responses will help to better define operator opinions and industry trends.Click here and follow the menu instructions to sign up for the free e-mail service.