Enjoy them while you can: Gas prices drifting lower

Columbus-area price per gallon slipping as Independence Day approaches; expected to rise after holiday

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 2, 2013 

Taxicab company owner Donnie Holford has developed a pretty simple outlook on the concept of fluctuating gas prices through the years.

“It’s like the weather,” he said Tuesday. “There’s not much you can do about it. You just kind of look at it and say: Boy, looks like it’s going to rain today.”

While heavy rain, indeed, is in the local forecast for Wednesday and the Fourth of July on Thursday, the current level of gas prices in the Columbus and Phenix City area might be termed partly sunny.

That’s because local motorists were paying as low as $3.11 for regular unleaded at one station in Phenix City on Tuesday, according to GasBuddy.com. In Columbus, prices were trending down toward $3.20, with one outlet at $3.17 per gallon.

Any movement lower is good news for service companies that use multiple vehicles, like Holford’s taxi operation. He owns City Cab, A Cab, Patriot Cab and Guardian Transportation, all in Columbus.

“It’s money out of the drivers’ pockets every time the thing ticks up, because our rates on the side of cabs don’t fluctuate,” said Holford, explaining the fees charged by his companies are set by a city taxi commission.

“If the price goes up, it gets a little bit tighter for the drivers,” he said. “They have to economize, so to speak, the best that they can to make it to the end of the week.”

Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for the automobile club AAA, said the Southeast appears to benefiting from a few positive factors, although it’s still puzzling why prices are sliding to the current level heading into the upcoming holiday.

“The Southeast is pretty well supplied,” she said. “Refineries right now are operating at about 90 percent capacity, which is the highest it’s been all year long. And last week the value of the dollar was at a three-week high, so that does help keep oil prices at bay. Other than that, factors are more bullish.”

Those factors include an increase in gasoline demand as motorists embark on long-planned summer vacations, thus pushing stockpiles lower. There also is the ever-present tension in the Middle East.

It is those elements, along with the possible threat of severe tropical storms heading into the peak hurricane season, that could easily create a rapid surge in gas prices at the pump.

Past trends would indicate that prices will begin to rise in July and stay that way through Labor Day, Brady said. They then supposedly would begin to slide as vacation travel drops off and as refineries prepare to switch to less-costly winter blends of fuel.

One thing Brady doesn’t anticipate is gas topping $4 per gallon nationally.

“I don’t think we’ll see that unless there is a severe storm that really wipes out supply or causes severe damage to refineries or unless we saw a severe supply disruption over in the Mideast,” she said.

On Thursday, AAA’s daily fuel gauge listed the average price of regular unleaded gas at just under $3.31 per gallon in Columbus. A year ago, the average was $3.06 per gallon, while the all-time high locally was registered on Sept. 18, 2008, when the price per gallon topped $4.20.

For those venturing south to the Gulf Coast beaches, GasBuddy.com listed prices per gallon Tuesday ranging from $3.34 to $3.49 in Panama City Beach, Fla. Farther west in Destin, Fla., they were roughly the same.

However, keep in mind that in Dothan, Ala., just north of the Florida border, prices ranged from $3.15 to $3.29. So it might be wise for motorists to time their fill-ups, if possible.

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