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Energy / ENERGY

More Americans Hit the Road for Memorial Day

photo of Olga Belogolova
May 27, 2011

As the summer driving season officially kicks off, Americans have not been scared off by high energy prices. In fact, those on the move plan to travel an average of 792 miles round trip this weekend.

According to an AAA and IHS Global Insight travel forecast, 34.9 million travelers will journey at least 50 miles from home this Memorial Day weekend—an increase of 0.2 percent or 100,000 travelers compared to the same weekend last year.

Infographic

 

Despite the numbers, all of this travel will be more expensive this year.

Though the national gas price average for regular gasoline has slipped in the weeks heading into the historically expensive Memorial Day weekend, prices are still higher than they were in 2010, at $3.85 per gallon for self-serve unleaded regular, according to the Energy Information Administration.

(MAP: Where are gas prices over $4 a gallon?)

But roadways, airports, and bus terminals should still be packed this weekend, AAA spokesman Troy Green told National Journal.

The difference now, American Petroleum Institute Chief Economist John Felmy says, is that the high prices are not coupled with a recession.

“Demand was affected last time around even more before because of the recession,” Felmy said on a conference call on Thursday, explaining that the economic recovery has about the same impact on consumer choices as gas prices.

Still, the number of Americans traveling would have been even higher in this recovery period if gas prices were lower, Green said.

“The increase in overall travel would be even greater if not for the significant headwinds created by very expensive fuel prices,” Green said, citing a lower unemployment rate and bigger disposable incomes.

Green said that of the 325 Americans surveyed, many Americans said they will economize in other areas of their trips. Green added that while many Americans are traveling, air travel is actually offsetting the decline in automobile travel.

“Memorial Day is just one data point on the map,” Chamber of Commerce Energy Institute expert Christopher Guith told National Journal.

The reason prices are low right now, Guith explains, is because refiners, upon switching to the summer blend, ramped up production in anticipation of this season.

But ever since March, demand has started to drop in the United States, according to Guith and then “good ol’ fashioned supply and demand kicks off,” consequently bringing down prices for now.

Still, the EIA found that prices will remain high during the summer driving season, estimating that the regular-grade motor gasoline retail price would average $3.81 per gallon from the start of April to the end of September.

In addition, the EIA forecasts the annual average regular-grade retail gasoline price will sit at $3.63 per gallon in 2011 and move to $3.66 per gallon in 2012. 

And National Journal Insiders say they think prices may even spike back up this year and surpass the record highs of 2008, when gasoline cost $4.11 a gallon.

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