Gas prices tempt commuters to try bus

Staff WriterMarch 1, 2011 

Triangle drivers are paying more for gas each day, even as crude oil prices fall back from the $100-a-barrel spike last week that was blamed on turmoil in Libya.

The Triangle average for regular reached $3.338 a gallon Monday, a jump in the past week of 20.5 cents - more than $3 on a 15-gallon fill-up - the Oil Price Information Service said.

Some Raleigh stations were posting prices between $3.40 and $3.50, according to , which posts price reports from volunteer scouts.

Triangle Transit, the regional bus service and transit planning agency, says bus ridership rises steadily when gas gets more expensive, and it declines a little when gas prices go down.

Rider counts in January were up 14.4 percent for Durham's DATA and 17.7 percent for Triangle Transit buses, compared with numbers for the same month a year earlier. And the GoTriangle Regional Transit Information Center (which also serves Raleigh and Chapel Hill bus riders) fielded a record 42,955 calls for bus information in January - more even than back when gas cost $4.

Things were different in spring 2008, the last time we saw pump prices above $3 and rising. Today the price is climbing faster. And with more people out of work in 2011, the price of gas is causing more pain this time.

The Triangle average price for regular climbed from $3.18 at the end of February 2008 to $3.60 at the end of April that year, on the way to record highs above $4 in late summer 2008.

But the North Carolina economy was a lot healthier back then, with a 5.2 percent unemployment rate in February 2008, so more of us had paychecks to help cover the higher cost of driving.

North Carolina's unemployment rate for February was 9.8 percent. Many residents who still hold jobs have seen their paychecks shrink in the past year. There's not a lot of cash to pay extra for a tank of gas.

Crude oil buyers were scared enough about the upheaval in Libya last week to pay more than $100 a barrel. On Monday, the price for West Texas Intermediate, an industry benchmark, was down to $97.53. or 919-829-4527

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