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Gas Prices Still Low, But Creeping Back Up

AP-After dropping to its lowest level in years, the price of gasoline is going back up. Still motorists will pay the cheapest Memorial Day pump prices in nearly two decades.

Jana Tidwell, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said as stay-at-home restrictions ease, some counties begin to reopen and more people are returning to work, the demand for gasoline is on the rise again and that has led the price to go up.

The average price of gas in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area is $2.12 a gallon, 12 cents a gallon higher than a week ago but 77 cents lower than a year ago, according to AAA.

“Gas prices around Memorial Day have not been this cheap in nearly 20 years,” Tidwell said.

While area motorists are paying cheaper prices at the pump than previous years at this time, Tidwell said travel numbers for Memorial Day are likely to set a record low.

Last year, AAA Mid-Atlantic forecasted about 46,000 area residents would travel 50 miles or more for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. This year will look much different, AAA officials said.

For the first time in 20 years, AAA did not issue a Memorial Day travel forecast because COVID-19 undermined the accuracy of the economic data used to create it.

Tidwell said when it’s safe to travel, she expects “vacationers will explore America’s backyard.”

“As the country continues to practice social distancing, this year’s unofficial kickoff to summer is not going to drive the typical Americans to travel,” she said.

The average price of gas nationally is $1.92 a gallon, 6 cents a gallon higher than a week ago but 92 cents lower than a year ago. Nationally, motorists hitting the road this Memorial Day weekend are paying the lowest national average for the holiday weekend in 17 years, according to GasBuddy.

It’s the first time the national average has been below $2 a gallon since 2003 when the average price of gas was $1.46 a gallon.

Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, said the low-priced gas starting the summer driving season may offer some respite to the dire economic conditions many are stuck in as millions of Americans are struggling with job losses.

“With Americans reluctant to get on a plane or train for the holiday weekend, which is likely to continue throughout the summer, gas prices may slowly continue to rise,” De Haan said. “But, prices will remain at a steep discount to last year to account for the situation.”

As summer progresses and the economy recovers, De Haan said demand will likely continue to rise and that could lead to gas prices likely trending higher most of the summer.

Gas prices normally peak in May or June and decline in late summer, he said.

“I expect gas prices to continue rising, pending economic improvement and a reduction in COVID-19 cases,” he said.

De Haan said while forecasting gasoline prices this summer has been the most challenging in GasBuddy’s 20-year history, he expects the national average price of gas will be $2.15 to $2.35 a gallon for Independence Day and $2.25 to $2.50 for Labor Day.

The average price of gas in Pennsylvania is $2.20 a gallon, nine cents a gallon higher than a week ago but 80 cents lower than a week ago.

Pennsylvania residents pay the highest gasoline taxes in the U.S. at nearly 59 cents a gallon, according to the American Petroleum Institute. They also pay a federal gasoline tax of about 18 cents a gallon.

“Pump prices are fluctuating throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania and across the country as demand increases and gasoline stocks decrease,” Tidwell said. “The boost in demand continues to push pump prices up nationwide as more states reopen businesses.”

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