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Stuck at the pump
Motorists fume, but options few
Trish Byers pumps gas Tuesday at the Race Trac in Cumming. In the past week, gas has gone up about 13 cents in the state. - photo by Autumn McBride

Drivers likely will feel the sting as they fill their tanks this Christmas season as experts say the cost of gas could near $3 a gallon.

Georgia may not top the $3 per gallon threshold, but in the past week the price of regular unleaded gas has gone up about 13 cents in the state, according to a weekly AAA Auto Club South report.

The current price is about $2.87 a gallon. It was $2.72 last month and $2.51 this time a year ago.

Jessica Brady, AAA Auto Club South spokeswoman, said the price jump likely stemmed from the value of the U.S. dollar declining after poor economic news last month.

The dollar’s fall increased the appeal of oil as a commodity to foreign investors, pushing crude prices up more than $5 to about $90 a barrel.

“This is not good news going into the December holiday season,” Brady said. “While we don’t expect the higher gas prices to deter many holiday travelers, it will definitely make consumer wallets a little tighter.”

Cumming resident Barbara Frady said she’s not changing her holiday plans, though more expensive gas does make for a terrible season’s greeting.

“Here at Christmas and everyone is trying to get things for people and then [prices] go up on them,” she said.

Frady’s sister lives more than an hour away, so when gas prices are high the two “don’t go visiting or go off on trips or anything because of it.”

Despite popular belief, higher gas prices are also often bad for business, said Jim Tudor, president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores.

“There is a perception out there that when gas prices are higher, that somehow the retailers are making more money,” he said.
“But the reality is, and in many cases, the opposite is true.

“The money that is typically made by convenience stores is not made from selling gas. Gas is typically a low-margin item.”

The higher the fuel prices, the more often people will pay using a credit card, Tudor said.

While credit is not uncommon, the card charge is about 2.5 percent of the profit, or more than 7 cents a gallon. Given the low profit margin, that’s a big deal to merchants, Tudor said.

As gas prices increase, large brand names like Exxon/Mobile, Chevron and BP may actually feel the crunch more than stores that sell unbranded gas like Kroger supermarket or BJ’s wholesale club.

“Typically, the unbranded gas can be cheaper cost-wise,” Tudor said. “They may have a lower cost that may allow them to sell it slightly cheaper.

“If the price of gas goes up, I think people pay more attention to differences.”

Trish Byers does. Though she hadn’t noticed the recent price hike, Byers still seeks out cheaper gas.

“I came here on purpose because I thought it was less,” she said Tuesday afternoon at the RaceTrac on Hwy. 20. “I had to do a U-turn to get here but ... every little difference is important. What I save here I can spend somewhere else.”

She may look for cheaper gas, but Byers said her day-to-day activities aren’t affected when prices rise.

“I’ve got to go where I’ve got to go,” she said. “What are you going to do?”

Byers’ mind-set is similar to that of many frustrated motorists, Brady said.

While some drivers may buy vehicles with better mileage, many can’t afford a new car in the slow economy. Cities may have public transportation, but suburbs don’t offer the same flexibility, she said.

“I think a lot of people are starting to get to that point,” Brady said. “Sure they’re disgruntled and they don’t like it, but they kind of feel like ‘what am I going to do?’

“You kind of are just stuck paying for gas.”