Local gas prices expected to keep climbing

As John Doty of Johnstown pumped gas at the Hess station on Route 30A last Wednesday, he had concerns about the price – $3.87 per gallon for regular.

“What could possibly be the reason for it to go up this high during an economic crisis?” he said. “If the majority of people can’t afford to get where they are going, it is going to affect the economy all over.”

Doty isn’t alone in his frustration over gas prices.

Over the last month, prices for regular gasoline have risen steadily, approaching $4 a gallon for regular unleaded at many gas stations across the region, leaving motorists with less disposable income.

And it’s going to get worse, according to the AAA.

AAA spokesman Steve Pacer said the prices are expected to continue to rise until peak season, which is around mid-April.

“They will rise, but at a much slower pace than they have been,” Pacer said. “They have actually gone down by a fraction of a penny the past couple of days. We can expect them to rise until they hit their peak in early to mid-April and then fall, which is what happened last year.”

Doty said the rise in prices wiped out his weekly budget, leaving no disposable income for other things. He said he commutes more than 140 miles round-trip every day between working in Columbia County and attending school in Utica.

He said he has considered buying a vehicle with better fuel mileage, but because of the economic situation, the purchase wouldn’t be feasible now.

“If I could afford it, I would, but I can’t right now,” Doty said. “Anything that is good for the economy or your health is more expensive for some reason or another.”

At the Stewart’s Shop on East Fulton Street in Gloversville on Wednesday, the price of regular gas was $3.93. That shop participates in the Fuel Advantage program with Price Chopper.

At the Getty and Cumberland Farms stations, both on North Main Street in Gloversville, regular gas was priced at $3.89 a gallon.

Andy Costa of Mayfield said the prices reaching almost $4 has cost him and his wife an additional $30 every week on gas.

“It absolutely affects our budget,” Costa said. “The money always has to come out of something.”

Costa currently drives a Hummer. He said he might consider changing vehicles if the prices continue to rise.

“The prices are awful,” said Greg Tomlinson of Mayfield, who also was buying gas last week. “You can’t do as much with your money, I can’t imagine what it is like right now for those driving trucks or even SUVs.”

Tomlinson said last year he made the switch from a truck to his new car, which has saved him about $60 to $70 a week.

Jeff Brown, owner of Brown’s Ford, said a lot more people have been coming in to his dealership lately looking for cars that have better gas mileage.

“I would say about 75 percent of the people trading in are looking for vehicles that get better gas mileage,” Brown said.

He said the dealership has seen a little bit of an increase in the sale of hybrids, but most people are buying regular cars that offer better mileage than previous models.

“The main thing is our Focuses and Fusions get over 40 miles to the gallon, and people love that,” Brown said. “People will tell their friends and family and then they will come in interested because they are that good.”

According to statistics provided on newyorkstategasprices.com, the rise in gas prices around the Albany area began in late January, when most stations had an average price of $3.63 for regular unleaded. By mid-February, the prices were averaging just below $3.95.

This isn’t the highest gas prices have been in the last year. Last April, the website said, the average retail price for gasoline reached $4.11 in the Albany area before plummeting to $3.48 by early July.

This time last year, the gas price was about the same price, at $3.92 a gallon, but considerably less in 2011, when it was $3.57, according to the gas prices website.

On Thursday, New York drivers paid an average of $4.008 per gallon on regular unleaded gas, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge report. This was down 1 cent from one week ago, up 26 cents from one month ago and up 4 cents from one year ago.

AAA couldn’t provide exact numbers for Montgomery, Hamilton and Fulton counties because its studies primarily focus on metropolitan areas, Pacer said.

The regional fuel gauge report showed the gas price in the Albany area is similar to most across the state. The Syracuse area was the lowest at an average price of $3.919, and New York City was the highest with the average price of $4.086.

According to the gas prices website, the current national average price for gasoline is about $3.75 per gallon.

Many people think gas stations are profiting from the increased cost to consumers, but operators say they have been keeping prices below the $4 mark as long as they can.

“The prices are based on our cost and the competitors around the shops,” Stewart’s Shop spokesman Tom Mailey said Thursday. “When you have $4 gas in a lot of places or upwards near $4 and you are pumping a lot of your budget into your gas tank … that leaves less for you to use not only in our shops, but [for] anything.”

He said a lot of the Stewart’s Shops in the area have sold gas below the company’s cost over the last couple of weeks in an attempt to keep the prices at a more attractive price.

“There was gas being sold for less than it cost to put it in the pumps,” Mailey said.

The causes for the latest gas spike, Mailey said, are refinery shutdowns and investors coming in and out of the market, increasing the cost of crude oil. The cost is passed down the line to the retailers selling the product and consumers buying it.

“We have to either eat that cost or pass some of it on to the consumer,” Mailey said.

He said he could not predict whether the prices will rise or come down in the coming months.

Mailey said the Fuel Advantage Saving program with Price Chopper helps bring more customers to the shops, but he said ultimately, the business at Stewart’s Shops is driven by the locations and communities the shops are in.

Some of the other companies that sell gas in the area weren’t as willing to speak about how their prices are determined.

“While it is company policy not to discuss pricing strategy, various factors in the national and international petroleum markets cause prices to fluctuate from time to time,” Hess said in an email to The Leader-Herald. “Be assured that our position at Hess is to remain competitive in the market while continuing to provide quality products at competitive prices. We value our guests and pride ourselves in the longtime commitment we have made to provide fast, efficient and courteous service in clean, attractive retail outlets.”

A representative of Cumberland Farms did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

Levi Pascher can be reached by email at [email protected].

By -