Not so pumped: Gas prices lower, but drivers stay wary | SierraSun.com

Not so pumped: Gas prices lower, but drivers stay wary

Nick Cruit
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunEmma Garrard/Sierra Sun

TRUCKEE/TAHOE CITY” With regular unleaded gas prices below $3 at some stations, you would think consumers would be taking advantage. Not so.

Gas stations are reporting a low volume of customers despite decreasing fuel costs; drivers say they are sticking with a conservative routine, only filling up when they need to.

Many drivers are seeing this as an opportunity to save money rather than top off their tanks, a trend reflected by low gas station volumes.

Tahoe City Chevron owner Bill Sharbrough expected an increase in sales with a station across the street closed and gas prices lowering. What he got was a 20 percent decrease in volume during the month of October, most likely caused by the recent road construction that stopped traffic up to 30 minutes outside the station, according to Sharbrough.

“As prices were falling we were way off normal volume because of construction,” said Sharbrough. “It’s like they put up a ‘Closed’ sign on our door.”

Rob McAuliffe, manager of the Phillips 76 in Truckee, said volume is down 50 percent at his shop compared with last year, crediting the recent downturn to the election.

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While McAuliffe tries to increase his number of customers, balancing ever-changing gas prices becomes a challenge.

“It really is a tough decision to make,” McAuliffe said. “On some days, it will go up, back down, back up, back down, all in the same day. You have to sit on prices and hope it shakes out.”

Mcauliffe’s prices went up $0.08 per gallon on Wednesday alone.

While a gallon of regular gas currently hovers around $3, drivers seem to be sticking with habits they formed when prices were up in the $4 range.

“I’m still treating it as if prices were up high,” said Robin Pole at a pump in Tahoe City, “I haven’t paid much attention to prices lately because it’s so depressing; I just get gas when I need it.”

“I have to stick with my new habits,” said Tom Draves, a construction worker who usually fills up twice a week, “I’m not changing now.”

Though tank conscious drivers mean less business for Sharbrough and the Tahoe City Chevron, he would rather see people conserving gas.

“If people are conserving fuel, and that’s a long term goal for them, that’s a good thing” said Sharbrough, “as people conserve gas, prices will probably go down.”

Oil prices dipped below $66 a barrel Thursday as investor sentiment once again seemed to shift to the growing global economic malaise and its potential impact on energy demand, according to the Associated Press.

“There are two forces working on the oil price,” said David Moore, a commodity strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney. “One is fear of weaker consumption, and the other is OPEC cutting output to wind back surpluses in the market.”

Gasoline fell again Tuesday night, dipping a couple of cents to a national average of $2.365 for a gallon of regular unleaded, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. The average price has fallen 33 percent in the past month and, according to AAA, could be headed to $2 a gallon nationally by year’s end.

Oil prices have fallen by about 55 percent since peaking at $147.27 a barrel in mid-July.

Demand for gasoline over the past four weeks was down 2.3 percent from a year earlier, according to the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration weekly report.

However, many analysts point to a steady recovery in demand, largely from the dramatic decline in gasoline prices in the past several weeks.