- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Washington drivers are feeling a pinch at the pump as regional gas prices approach $3 per gallon.

The average price of unleaded gasoline in the Washington area rose 13 cents in the past week, and some analysts say it won’t fall anytime soon.

“I’m shocked with what has happened with the prices,” said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “And what’s most troubling is that I think they will keep increasing.”

The District recorded its highest price of $3.23 in September 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, and some commuters are worried that the escalating prices are inching closer to that milestone.

“I always think it is ridiculous when gas prices go up like this,” said Ron Tysick, a local commuter. “They jump up so quickly and then take months to go back down again.”

The average price per gallon of unleaded gasoline in the Washington area is $2.70, a 26 percent increase from February when gas lingered at $2.15, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

National prices jumped 10 cents this week to $2.71, according to the Energy Information Administration, although in some areas — like San Francisco — a gallon is nearing $4.

Some local stations are teetering at $2.99, such as the Exxon at 7340 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda.

One reason for the volatility is a matter of supply, said analysts with the Energy Information Administration. Maintenance and unplanned outages at refineries have tightened the nation’s gasoline market, said a recent report from the EIA.

“In addition to the hiccups in production, we had a huge demand for gas because people drove more this winter,” Mr. Townsend said.

“These two factors are being exacerbated by the situation between Britain and Iran,” he said. “The tension in the Middle East has unnerved traders, and their uncertainties have temporarily pushed crude prices up.”

Prices for light sweet crude simmered on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday, dropping 2 percent to $64.64. Oil prices had spiked after the British sailors and marines were taken hostage March 23, jumping 5 percent from $62.91 to a six-month high of $66.03

Some commuters are changing their driving habits as they prepare for gas to reach $3 a gallon by depending more on public transportation to get around.

“Nowadays I take the Metro because its easier and cheaper,” said Alex Phillips, a local commuter from Northwest.

“I’d much rather pay $2.50 for the Metro, than pay $15 to park downtown and whatever it’s costing me for gas,” he said.

Other local residents say they are driving less and planning their routes to save fuel.

“Recently I’ve tried to combine my trips so I don’t have to drive as much,” said Pam Frederick, a Northwest resident. “Gas prices are definitely in the forefront of my mind.”

The high prices are hitting long-distance commuters the hardest, like Rabih Chamas who drives from the District to Baltimore every day to manage his Lebanese restaurant.

“It costs me nearly $25 each trip and I can’t take public transportation because it would never get me there in time,” Mr. Chamas said.

“I know that what is happening in Iran right now is a problem, but these prices need to go down.”

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