story by Wesley Brown, special to The City Wire
Arkansas motorists will enter the traditional summer driving season this Memorial Day weekend with pump prices trending downward, but not without the typical bumps and fluctuations that often happen between now and the time students return to school.
And those choosing to hit the roads over the long weekend should expect crowded highways and busy travel destinations, according to AAA. Kicking off the summer driving season, more than eight in 10 travelers will drive to their destinations, says the 53 million-member auto club. The Memorial Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, May 22 to Monday, May 26.
Nationally, travelers who choose to drive to their destinations should expect to pay about $3.61 per gallon for regular gasoline unleaded, about 3 cents higher than last year, according to the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) short-term forecast. The projected national pump price is expected to fall 21 cents from $3.72 per gallon in May to $3.51 per gallon in September, the traditional end of summer driving season, the EIA says.
However, Michael Green, national spokesman for AAA, said although the Energy Department’s forecast calls for pump prices to slide over a period of several months, most metropolitan areas will see shifting prices based on a number of factors – including supply and demand.
“The EIA report looks at prices over a really long period, but there are a lot of things happening between May and September,” Green said.
For example, Green said in a typical year across the nation and in Arkansas, gasoline prices usual peak in late April or early May. The reason, Green said, is that heating oil demand is slowing and the demand for gasoline and diesel fuel is ramping up.
“Refiners are beginning maintenance of their production facilities and switching their (fuel) mix over to gasoline for the vacation season,” Green said of the early driving season.
By late June and heading into the Fourth of July holiday, prices will jump back up to near- yearly highs as demand for gasoline and other transportation fuels peak and many American families take to the road for long vacations. From AAA’s perspective, not much is changing from a year ago.
“What we are seeing is that gas prices will be similar to last year,” Green said.
In fact, in comparison to the Monday before Memorial Day in recent years, today’s May 22) price is one cent less than 2013 ($3.65), five cents less than 2012 ($3.69) and 21 cents less than 2011 ($3.84), according to this AAA report.
For the year, the EIA expects regular gasoline retail prices to average $3.48 per gallon in 2014 and $3.39 per gallon in 2015, compared with $3.51 per gallon in 2013.
In Arkansas, pump prices in the state’s metropolitan areas range from a low of $3.29 per gallon in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers area to a high of nearly $3.45 per gallon in the Texarkana area, according to AAA’s daily fuel gauge. Motorists in the Fort Smith area will see prices at $3.32 per gallon, while travelers and residents in the Little Rock-North Little Rock area and Pine Bluff will pay an average of $3.40 and $3.43 and a gallon to fill up their tanks, respectively.
Drivers choosing to fill up the tanks with a higher-grade of gasoline should expect to pay an average premium of $3.73 a gallon across the state. Big rig drivers and other diesel fuel users will see pump prices at about $3.77 a gallon, up 3 cents from a year ago.
Arkansans saw their highest pump prices going into the Memorial Day weekend in 2008, when skyrocketing demand for crude oil pushed retail prices for regular unleaded well above four dollars a gallon.
Meanwhile, the AAA projects 36.1 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, a 1.5% increase from the 35.5 million people who traveled last year. The 2014 forecast is 2.6% higher than the 10-year historical average and the second highest travel volume since 2000. Here are other highlights of the AAA’s Memorial Day weekend forecast:
• 88% of travelers (31.8 million) to travel by automobile, an increase from 31.4 million last year;
• Holiday air travel expected to increase from 2.4% to 2.6 million leisure travelers;
• Travel by other modes of transportation including cruise, trains and buses will see the largest increase, up 6.5% (total 1.7 million travelers); and
• Travelers will encounter slightly higher prices with airfares 6% higher, mid-range hotels up 2% and car rentals costing 1% more.