Just ahead of one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, motorists are seeing a surge in gas prices.
The average price of gasoline in Texas has jumped 16 cents in the past week, rising from $2.98 to $3.14, according to auto club AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report. In Austin, the increase has been 13 cents, jumping from an average of $3.01 last week to $3.14 this week, according to AAA data. The national average rose 8 cents during the past week, from $3.20 to $3.28, according to AAA data.
The price increase is being felt most in the Southeast, because refineries in Texas and Louisiana that supply Gulf Coast states are in the midst of production problems that cut output capacity, industry experts say. The maintenance issues are directly affecting pump prices in Southeast states, AAA said.
An estimated 3.4 million Texans are expected to travel Wednesday through Sunday, with 3.1 million of those expected to go by automobile, according to AAA. Texas travelers plan to log an average of 591 miles round-trip during the upcoming holiday period, according to AAA.
At the Everytime Stop convenience store on South Congress, the gas sign outside reflects the rising prices. On Nov. 16, gas there was $2.95 a gallon; on Nov. 20 it had reached $3.11, and, on Wednesday, it was $3.14.
The spike in gas prices “is unfortunate that it comes when we are seeing a high seasonal demand for fuel,” said Doug Shupe, spokesman for AAA Texas. “And it’s unfortunate for folks who were planning on some of the lowest gas prices in years. A lot of families were hoping for more of a (price) break.”
Some of those filling up cars and trucks in Austin on Tuesday said the increase hasn’t been too painful yet.
“I try not to pay attention, because there’s nothing I can do about it,” said Chris LeVeck, who was filling up a truck used by his sign repair business. “Even with my own personal vehicle, I go where it’s most convenient, not where it’s cheapest.”
At Austin-based Soup Peddler, which operates a soup and prepared foods delivery service, the hope is that the price will stabilize.
“It doesn’t really freak us out until it gets into the above-$3.50 range,” said Patrick Brown, general manager. Still, he said, the business “will definitely feel this the first week of December when we pay the next Texaco bill. We do all we can to keep costs down. The big thing for us is using GPS-assisted software that makes our routes more efficient.”
For taxi drivers, even small price fluctuations can hurt, said Austin cab driver Mustapha Aban.
“The slightest change really affects our income,” Aban said. “If it goes up 10 cents a gallon, it’s easily a $50 difference a week. It’s especially hard for the taxis that drive around instead of waiting at the airport.”
Gregg Laskoski, a senior analyst at GasBuddy.com, said four Gulf Coast refineries that have reduced production are affecting the price increase. One of them is the Shell/Motiva refinery in Port Arthur, the nation’s largest with a capacity of 600,000 barrels per day.
Higher consumer demand nationwide has also contributed to the price increase, he said.
“This has nothing to do with the holiday, and everything to do with refinery downtime and very robust exports,” Laskoski said.
Prices could easily go up an additional nickel this week. However, the gloomy weather forecast for this week has the potential to reduce the number of drivers and fuel consumption, Laskoski said.
That could result in fuel prices that flatten through the Thanksgiving weekend or even fall, depending on how quickly the Gulf Coast refineries correct the problems that reduced their output in recent weeks.
“For the first weeks of December, I think we’ll see some retail price increases that reflect the full amount of the wholesale price increases that have not yet been fully implemented,” Laskoski said.
Austin average gas prices
• This week: $3.14
• Week ago: $3.01
• Month ago: $3.09
• Year ago: $3.18
Source: AAA Texas