Drivers fill up to beat $3-a-gallon gasoline
O'ahu drivers have been filling up their cars, trucks and SUVs in anticipation of $3-a-gallon gasoline prices next week, the highest since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Higher Mainland prices mean Hawai'i's wholesale price will jump 14 cents a gallon starting Monday.
Yesterday's average price for regular gas in Honolulu was about $2.86 a gallon, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. Add on 14 cents and Honolulu gasoline likely will sell for $2.999 and up next week — the first time since late October.
"It's just going up and up," Debbie Lazor said, just before spending $20 for 7.2 gallons of regular unleaded for her 2004 Mazda RX8. "Eventually it's just going to stay above $3."
Many drivers yesterday said next week's rise in prices gives them more reason to oppose Hawai'i's first-in-the-nation gas cap law, which is under fire.
Like others, attorney Dan Pagliarini believes that Hawai'i's gas cap only ensures that oil companies and retailers will charge as much as they can each week. The cap set a maximum wholesale price but leaves retailers free to charge whatever they want.
"There's no use trying to tweak something that's only going to maximize profits," Pagliarini said, just before paying $34.50 for 11.6 gallons of regular. "They're just going to push it to the ceiling."
Next week's $3-a-gallon prices will be "just another nail in the coffin for those who support" the gas cap, said Bill Green, a former owner and now consultant to Kahala Shell.
State lawmakers created the price cap amid concerns the oil industry earned excessive profits in Hawai'i by charging inflated gasoline prices.
Whether consumers are better off with the cap remains debatable. But since it took effect, prices have been more volatile and geographically disparate.
Lawmakers in the House are calling for a suspension of the cap on July 1 and a repeal at the end of 2011.
Senate leaders now support a suspension of the cap, but only if an amended version is kept in the wings should gasoline prices rise above a "fair price" level.
Under the Senate proposal, next week's maximum wholesale price for regular on O'ahu would be $2.13 a gallon, according to Advertiser calculations. That's 19 cents a gallon lower than the actual wholesale cap of $2.32 a gallon.
High prices can't be pinned solely on the gas cap, said Rep. Hermina Morita, chairwoman of the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.
"It's so easy to point the finger at that (the gas cap), but people have to look at the cost of oil and the geopolitical situation that is driving the cost of crude oil up," she said. "Whether it's beneficial or detrimental to the consumer just hasn't been proven out."
Crude oil for delivery in May reached $67.94 a barrel yesterday, the highest closing price since Jan. 30 and within $3 of the record $70.85 a barrel reached Aug. 30 after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, according to Bloomberg News. In New York trading, gasoline for May delivery briefly reached $2.004, the highest since Oct. 5.
Many drivers yesterday were more focused on where prices will be on Monday in Hawai'i.
Leo Nguyen pumped $20 worth of premium gasoline into the 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis he uses as a taxi and said he has no choice but to eat next week's price increase.
"I wish we could," Nguyen said, "but we cannot charge the customers more."
Troy Yach, general sales manager at CompUSA, moved his family from Hawai'i Kai to a new home on North King Street two weeks ago, specifically to reduce how much gas his 2001 Ford Expedition SUV sucks up each day.
"Prices are already too high right now," Yach said as he paid $73 for 26 gallons of regular unleaded.
Next week, Yach expects to pay more than the nearly $80 he sometimes spends each week to get to work and drive around his two children, ages 12 and 14.
"I would love to drive less," he said. "But we've got band and all kinds of school events."
The chairman and CEO of Tesoro Corp. on Wednesday said he did not expect rising fuel prices to cause a major decline in demand this summer.
American drivers, said Bruce A. Smith, "have accepted a little higher price."
"I don't like it because I drive a lot," Wendy Rita said just before paying $20 for seven gallons of regular for her 2004 Kia Sedona minivan.
With four children ranging in age from 9 to 17, Rita — a housewife from Kaimuki — finds herself driving all over the island for volleyball and basketball practices and games.
"We try to get the coaches to schedule our practices at the same place and they're really good about trying to accommodate us," Rita said. "But a lot of times we have no choice."
Gene Daniel, a retired FAA engineer-manager from Waikiki, plans to cut down on how far he drives his 1994 Honda Accord. But Daniel said most drivers who rely on their cars really have only one alternative.
"All you can do is get your gas before it goes up and hopefully make it last until it goes down again," Daniel said. "Definitely, try to get it now."
Julie McBane, a Waikiki photographer, drove three blocks around the McCully area yesterday looking for the station with the lowest price to fill up her 2002 Chevrolet Prizm.
"I am definitely shopping around," McBane said. "I know, I know. You end up using gas to find gas. But I'll only go where it costs the least."
Jessica Honbow, with her 1-year-old daughter riding in the back of her 2002 Ford Escape SUV, is taking a long-term view.
Honbow is shopping for a hybrid SUV that would undoubtedly cut down on her $30-a-week gas expense.
But as she glanced back at Justice, Honbow had other motives for cutting down on her fuel consumption.
"You want to leave the Earth better for our kids," she said.