- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Gasoline prices in the D.C. area rose 13 cents in the past month, including a 7-cent spike since Wednesday, AAA Mid-Atlantic said yesterday.

The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular unleaded gasoline is $1.59, one penny higher than the national average of $1.58, according to the research by AAA's local chapter.

The weekly survey released by the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) yesterday showed prices rose nationally for the third consecutive week. The average price of a gallon of regular gas was $1.56 last week, up 6 cents from the week before, the survey said.

At $1.59 a gallon, the price of gas locally is just 6 cents shy of the record high recorded in July, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson.

Mr. Anderson said he did not know why prices are rising. He said the oil industry is concerned about a recent Federal Trade Commission report that suggests the nation's gas supply is low.

In general, the highest price spikes usually take place in the summer, when driving levels are higher, he said.

"We just blew past $1.40 a month ago, and we haven't even had the summer-driving increase," Mr. Anderson said.

Locally, gas costs more in the District, where the average price of regular unleaded is $1.63, the AAA survey showed. This represents a 5-cent increase since April 6, when AAA issued its last gas-price survey.

In Virginia, the average price of regular unleaded is $1.52, a 12-cent increase since April 6. The average price in Maryland is $1.56 a 6-cent bump since Wednesday and a 9-cent increase since April 6.

Elsewhere, the average price of regular gas was $1.68 on the West Coast last week, the EIA said. Prices were also high in the Midwest, where prices rose 5 cents to $1.57 a gallon.

Midwest pump prices have soared 19 cents in three weeks, the national survey of 800 gas stations showed.

Prices were cheapest in the Southeast and the Rocky Mountain states, where regular gasoline fetched $1.505 a gallon, according to the survey.

The national gain was the biggest since June and left pump prices for regular gasoline 11 cents higher than the same week a year earlier, the survey said.

Justin McNaull, public affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the timing of the increase is "worrisome" because it comes two weeks after the U.S. Department of Energy forecast that national average summer prices would be the second-highest ever, behind only prices last summer.

"In reality, prices now average about 6 cents more per gallon than they did a year ago, and there are no signs of great relief in the near future," Mr. McNaull said.

Last summer, the average price of gas in the D.C. area peaked at about $1.65 during July. The peak followed a 30-cent per gallon increase between February and June 2000.

As recently as March 1999, the average price of gas in the area was less than $1 per gallon, AAA Mid-Atlantic said. April marks the 16th consecutive month that D.C.-area prices have averaged more than $1.30 per gallon, according to the organization.

Local gas-station owners said the rising prices haven't hurt business. "Business is as steady as always," said Roy Ayoub, assistant manager at the Georgetown Exxon at 1601 Wisconsin Ave. NW. The station sold regular unleaded gas for $1.69 per gallon yesterday, about 8 cents more than last week.

Other businesses, such as courier services and taxicab companies, said the rising prices have a big impact on them.

Lee Barnes, president of Barwood Transportation, a Kensington company that has more than 350 taxis in Montgomery County, said the typical full-time cab driver uses about 25 gallons of gas a day.

Barwood's cabs are operated by independent contractors, Mr. Barnes said.

"Usually, the drivers are able to handle fluctuations in the prices. But when the price goes up 10 to 20 cents a gallon, the impact is greater," he said.

The D.C. Taxicab Commission raised surcharges three times last year, blaming rising gas prices in the region.

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