By Rob LeDonne
After a full year of record high gas prices, including a spike in October that left residents shaking their heads, the cost of a gallon of gas is finally decreasing just in time for Thanksgiving and the holiday driving season. However, with an entire nation feeling pain at the pump, many are wondering if this is a fleeting miracle or part of a welcome trend.
“The hope is that they do continue to fall throughout the end of the year. That would be a typical pattern,” said Marie Montgomery, spokesperson for AAA of Southern California. “But expect the unexpected because this year has been anything but typical.”
Montgomery acknowledged that while gas is still expensive, it’s “nowhere near where it once was, which is perfect timing for the holidays.” Based on a normal pattern, gas prices decline into January but Montgomery notes “as we’ve seen, any disruption to our supply seems to really set off the market. A lot of it has to do with the economy, the financial outlook, the value of the dollar. If the economy is not doing that well and value of the dollar is low then you’re going to have to shell out more dollars in the long-run.” In other words, the North County area, and country in general, are at the mercy of a fragile system.
However, something like the gas rationing in the northeast due to Hurricane Sandy won’t effect Southern California in the least. “That’s a localized situation in New York. Any part of their supply chain has nothing to do with Southern California.” said Montgomery.
Susan Crow, an employee of the Shell Station on Del Mar Heights Road, knows all too well about the effect of rising and falling gas prices. “I’ve worked here for about seven years now, and just recently it went up quite a bit,” said Crow referring to early October’s price increase which saw a gallon of premium gas as high as $6, a record. That increase was thanks to pipeline and refinery issues and caused Governor Jerry Brown to order the sale of winter-blend fuel, which is traditionally cheaper. Since then, prices have been dropping every day since, but the damage done to local business remains.
“When we hit record highs in October, people wouldn’t come (into the store) and buy as much” said Crow, who also noted that an attached repair shop saw a sharp decrease in business as well. During the surge, she also noticed a lot of people forgetting about their car altogether and riding bicycles to get around.
“When prices went up, they went up so fast it was sort of shocking,” said Montgomery. “We had no time to adjust to a spike, which occurred within a week. Everyone was waiting and waiting for the prices to go down, and finally they did.” Even better, according to Montgomery,, is that current gas prices are near the same as last year, a rarity so far in 2012, especially during this past summer when Southern California saw an all-time high Memorial Day price for gas.
“Our busiest time is when the fair and racetrack are open,” explained Crow of the crowds they draw into the area. “Christmas is the slowest time for us.”
How low prices will go during the holiday driving season is the ultimate question, and something no one has the answer to. Said Crow: “It’s strange how it goes up and then goes back down. It seems kind of crazy to me.”