Ping-ponging fuel prices greet travelers

AAA predicts drop in auto trips but big gain for buses, trains
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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After a fall of falling gas prices, the early winter price at the pumps is rising again as motorists take to the roads for the Christmas holiday season. Auburn driver Chris Hill has noticed the upward bounce and said he finds it perplexing – given the continuing drop in the price of a barrel of oil to below $40. Hill, who drives a gas-sipping Honda Civic and a fuel-efficient Miata, said he’s watched the price of gas rise from $1.59 a gallon when oil was at $50 a barrel to $1.69 a gallon now that oil-by-the-barrel prices have continued to drop. “I’m perplexed because they’ve been gouging us for so long,” Hill said. “I can remember when gas was 40 bucks a barrel in 2004 and the price for a gallon of gas was about $1.25.” A check of several gas stations Tuesday in Auburn found the lowest price at $1.66 a gallon. The AAA is reporting the economic downturn has eroded the discretionary income of many Californians, affecting travel plans and festivities and reducing projected holiday travel by 2 percent. Still, the automobile association forecasts more than 8.6 million Californians will travel 50 miles or more from their homes to celebrate the end-of-year holidays. “The significant reduction in the cost of gasoline has been insufficient to offset concerns over unemployment, job security and loss of disposable income,” said Cynthia Harris, spokesperson for AAA Northern California. “But despite these fears, many will still be venturing out of town, and we can expect packed airplanes and congested highways.” The Associated Press reported the average national price of gas fell to $1.66 a gallon, the lowest since February 2004. The all-time average high was reached last July, when prices peaked at $4.11 a gallon. The association predicts that more than 7.2 million Californians will be traveling by motor vehicle – a 1.5 percent decrease from last year. Airplane travel will take the biggest hit, with a 6.7 percent decrease to just over 1 million travelers. Travel by bus, train or boat cruises is the lone growth area – with a projected jump of 6.4 percent, representing 280,000 people on the go using mostly public transportation. The auto association is encouraging motorists to prepare for their vehicles for winter trips, Harris said. Steps to take include checking all systems, changing wiper blades if needed, keeping a full gas tank, and carrying an emergency kit. The Capitol Corridor commuter rail service is shifting its schedule for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The joint powers authority said that trains will run on a weekend-holiday schedule this Thursday and on Jan. 1. County transit services will also operate on different holiday schedules. Placer County Transit, Placer Commuter Express and Dial-A-Ride services will all be closed on Christmas and New Year’s days. On the Fridays of Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, Placer County Transit and Dial-A-Ride will follow their regular Saturday schedules. Placer Commuter Express will not run on Dec. 25 or Jan. 1 but will run its regular schedule on all other days over the holiday period. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at