Wednesday September 12, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- When gasoline prices begin to go up, Tim Carroll of Pittsfield rethinks his travel plans.

"I guess you just have to strategize," said Carroll, a small-business owner, as he filled the gas tank of his Ford Escape on Tuesday at the Mobil Station on Elm Street.

"Instead of taking that long drive on the weekend or that trip to Springfield or Boston, you have to think twice about it," he said.

Carroll is not the only local motorist who is concerned because gasoline prices in Massachusetts are inching closer to $4 per gallon.

The average cost of a gallon of regular, self-serve gasoline in Massachusetts jumped four cents during the past week to $3.80, AAA Southern New England reported this week. Gas prices have jumped 13 cents in the last month and are just two cents per gallon below the national average. Gas prices are 15 cents higher than they were at this time last year.

AAA found regular self-serve selling between $3.69 and $3.99 per gallon across the state. In Pittsfield, gas prices on Tuesday ranged from $3.77 to $3.93 per gallon, according to Massachu settsgasprices.com. They were from $3.79 to $3.92 per gallon in North Adams and between $3.87 and $3.95 per gallon in Great Barrington.

Patrick DeHaan, an analyst for the GasBuddy.com website, said prices in Massachusetts have been affected by a significant decrease in the inventory of available gasoline caused by refinery shutdowns, some of that stemming from the damage caused on the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Isaac. Gasbuddy.com lists the average price of regular self-serve gasoline in Massachusetts at $3.88 per gallon, but DeHaan said the website uses a different formula than AAA.

The inventory of gasoline in the East Coast is down 6.6 million barrels from 2011, he added.

"A lot of what we’re seeing on the East Coast is due to the fact that inventories are tight," DeHaan said. "That’s certainly causing a bit more of a concern than elsewhere where they’re not as tight. The wholesale prices of gasoline [on the East Coast] are the highest in the country."

Despite the recent price surge, DeHaan believes that the average gas price in Massachusetts won’t rise above $4 per gallon.

"I do believe that it will level off," DeHaan said. "The good news for motorists is that, typically, demand for gasoline wanes as the temperatures cool. That allows inventories to build."

Ellen Lanciano, who co-owns Tobi’s Limousine Service in Lenox, said surges in gas prices tend to affect her business both ways. Either people rent more limos because they don’t want to pay a lot for gas, or the prices get so high that customers don’t rent speciality cars at all.

"It is doing neither at the moment," Lanciano said. "It’s just not high enough. A year or two ago, when gas prices really surged, it had a positive impact on us. But we watch these things very closely because gasoline is the second largest cost for our business."

At the American Cab Co. in North Adams, general manager Jim Lemieux said the business is paying a little more for gas, but has managed to keep its rates for fares at the same level.

"Gas pricing is ridiculous," Lemieux said. "We’ve talked about raising the [fare] prices, but we don’t want to do that because all the people in town who need this service would suffer."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224.
On Twitter: @tonydobrow