Gas prices hit 2012 low in Triangle

Drivers seek bargains as some stations dip below $3 a gallon

jmurawski@newsobserver.comDecember 21, 2012 

RALEIGH Gasoline prices fell to a low for the year in the Triangle this week, prompting local drivers to use apps, word of mouth and drive-by sightings in their quest for petro bargains.

Some local gas stations had been selling gas for less than a $3 a gallon this week, but as of Friday those deals were becoming scarce as prices crept back up.

With memories of $4-a-gallon gas four years ago still fresh, residents said the savings will feed their families, pay for holiday gifts and leave something extra for a charitable donation or two.

“I think it’s really helped out this holiday season, considering that we’ve had very little income growth over the last year,” said Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner, adding that middle-class and lower-income wages have stagnated since the recession.

Cars converged Friday on RaceTrac on South Saunders Street, known as a local strip for cheap gas. As competitors increased prices midmorning, the filling station just south of downtown Raleigh continued selling regular gas below $3 a gallon.

The giant $2.99 sign set off a scene with lines more than six cars deep, impatient honking of horns and the occasional flaring temper.

“I was real disappointed driving down the road when I saw $3.17, $3.17, $3.17,” said Sherri Troop as she filled up her Honda Pilot SUV. “I was so thankful when I found this one.”

Parts of the state, the Triangle included, saw their lowest gas prices of 2012 this week, but overall North Carolina’s $3.22-a-gallon average did not break the $3.18 low set on July Fourth. The Triangle’s $3.21-a-gallon average Thursday was the lowest for the region all year, and light-years from our peak average in early April: $3.91 a gallon.

Gasoline prices tend to be lower in the fall and winter, when energy demand subsides and refineries make a cheaper winter blend fuel, said Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst at Gasbuddy.com, an online price tracker. Prices typically rise around Christmas as travel picks up and refineries prepare to switch to a more expensive summer blend of fuel.

“It appears the prices are pretty stable now,” Laskoski said. “The party’s gonna come to an end pretty soon.”

Those waiting in line at RaceTrac compared the scene to the 1973 oil embargo. Cars snaked out of the parking lot and into the street. Those who had filled up maneuvered to break through the traffic jam in the lot.

Many said they expect this to be the lowest gas price they’ll find for months.

“This is helping me out immensely,” said Edward William Smith of Clayton, as he filled his Ford Ranger pickup truck and estimated he was saving $20. “It can go out and buy me another toy for my daughters for Christmas. It can be put in a Salvation Army bin.”

Carl Dean of Raleigh went five miles out of his way, directed to RaceTrac by a smartphone app, to get his gas savings. Like many waiting in line, he expressed mixed emotions watching the bargain-hunting frenzy that hinted at households in the area living under economic stress.

“It’s sad that so many people are trying to get cheap gas,” he said.

Another Raleigh resident, Cindy Webbs, was filling up for the first time in four months. She said she’s disabled and unemployed and can’t afford to get out much.

She got her last tankful courtesy of her church pastor.

“This helps a whole lot,” she said.

Staff writer David Bracken contributed.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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