Austin-area gas prices have spiked 20 cents in the past week, causing plenty of pain for Central Texas consumers and businesses.
The average cost per gallon citywide is $3.61, according to AAA Texas, up from $3.41 last week. That means a driver filling a 14-gallon fuel tank is paying roughly $3 more this week, AAA spokesman Doug Shupe said. Over the past three weeks, gas prices in Austin have climbed a combined 40 cents per gallon, according to AAA Texas data.
While this week’s figure is certainly eye-popping, it’s below both the statewide and national averages of $3.64 and $3.78, respectively.
One reason for the increases, Shupe said, is routine maintenance that has taken some refineries temporarily offline.
But there might be some better news on the way.
“We’ve likely plateaued,” said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com, a site that monitors gas prices in cities nationwide. “It’s not necessarily going to go down quickly, but the national average may drop in the next three or four days. By next week, we could see a national average in the upper $3.60s.”
The highest and lowest gas prices in Central Texas midday Thursday were in western Travis County, according to GasBuddy.com. The Major Brand Gas at 14211 W. Texas 71 in Bee Cave was selling fuel for $3.45 per gallon, while a nearby Chevron station at 3611 S. Pace Bend Road in Spicewood was more than 30 cents higher at $3.79.
Even though prices have risen dramatically, some area gas stations say they’re not doing as well as you might think.
“When the gas price goes up, you’re not selling as much,” said Rick Eli, manager of the Stop-N-Save at 1800 Burton Drive in Southeast Austin.
Binod Kuikel, an employee at the Major Brand Gas station at 3630 S. Congress Ave. in South Austin, said business has dipped about 10 percent in recent weeks. The station is attempting to hold the line on prices, he said, to keep sales from plummeting even more.
“It’s company policy to sell as low as possible,” Kuikel said. “As long as the prices keep going up, we’re hoping people will choose to visit us.”
Elsewhere in the country things are far worse. GasBuddy.com reported the highest price for a gallon of gas on Thursday was $5.19 in Los Angeles. It was $4.89 in New York and San Francisco, and $4.59 in Chicago.
Prices in the Austin area are still well below the all-time high of $3.97 in July 2008, AAA says, but plenty of people are still grumbling.
Mack Willy, who opted to hitch a ride aboard a Capital Metro bus early Thursday afternoon, said many people have had to adjust their budgets to accommodate higher fuel costs.
“I’m really angry,” Willy said. “This whole situation is getting out of hand.”
Capital Metro spokeswoman Erica Macioge said January ridership was up 5.4 percent systemwide compared with the same month a year ago. The number of people using MetroRail has jumped 68 percent year to year, she said.
Capital Metro’s February figures won’t be available until late March.
When prices approached $4 per gallon in 2008, Capital Metro added extra buses on some lines to accommodate additional passengers, especially on its express routes serving places such as the Elgin, Leander and Manor areas, Macioge said.
“There’s definitely a positive correlation between gas prices and ridership,” she said. “We have some flexibility to insert buses if the need arises, but we’re not there yet.”
The agency continually monitors passenger numbers, Macioge said, and will make tweaks if warranted.
Businesses are feeling the pinch, as well – even with fuel surcharges that have been in place since 2008. Domino’s, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut and other pizza shops have implemented delivery surcharges as high as $3 per order.
So have UPS and FedEx.
“There were pretty significant increases in fuel surcharges at the first of the year, and I have a feeling we’ll see a pretty decent one in March,” said Marcus Sterling, owner of Postal Etc…, a pack-and-ship shop at 5350 Burnet Road in North Austin.
Customers, he says, have definitely taken notice.
“I get a lot of, ‘Oh, my gosh … why is it so high?” he said. “I’ve even had a few people not ship things because they were shocked by the prices.”
To save money, GasBuddy.com suggests keeping your car properly maintained. Don’t speed, the site advises, keep tires properly inflated, use cruise control when possible, keep windows closed, sparingly use your air conditioner and avoid idling and sudden braking or accelerating.
Even then, DeHaan, the GasBuddy.com analyst, said folks who follow those tips won’t necessarily notice a huge difference in fuel efficiency.
“There’s really not a whole lot people can do,” he said.
Gas price averages
Current average price per gallon: $3.61
Increase from last week: 20 cents
Current average price per gallon: $3.64
Increase from last week: 21 cents
Current average price per gallon: $3.78
Increase from last week: 15 cents
Source: AAA Texas