$4 gas flows in more places

Times Staff Writer

Gasoline averaging more than $4 a gallon has arrived in more cities in the U.S.

The average price for a gallon of self-serve regular was over the $4-a-gallon mark in 15 metropolitan areas Monday, according to a survey of 100,000 service stations around the country released by AAA.

Chicago and Long Island, N.Y., were the new members of the club, and Bridgeport, Conn., headed the list, with the average gallon selling for $4.10.

In California, Santa Barbara was No. 1 at $4.061, up from $3.588 a year earlier.

By comparison, the average in Orange County was $3.901, up from $3.437.

"I thought [the rise in prices] was going to end a few cents ago, but it's still going on," said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director for the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey, which conducts the survey for AAA. "I don't know when this is going to end."

The federal government's weekly pump price report said the national average climbed 6.9 cents over the last seven days to a record $3.791 a gallon. The average in California rose 3.3 cents to $3.952, the report by the Energy Information Administration said. That's 51.6 cents higher in the state than it was a year earlier.

Crude oil futures for June delivery closed above $127 for the first time, up 76 cents on the New York Mercantile Exchange to $127.05 a barrel.

Analysts blamed the increase on continuing concern about global supplies and mixed signals from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on whether its production would increase in coming months.

One thing seemed certain to market watchers: High prices are having an effect on U.S. consumption ahead of Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start to the summer driving season.

"For the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, gasoline demand [this year] is expected to be less than it was the previous year," said Phil Flynn, vice president and senior market analyst for Alaron Trading Co. in Chicago.

In the Bronx in New York, Sandra Honor, a recently retired power technician for a telecommunications company, said she was wondering whether she should have stayed on the job. When she drove with friends Sunday to Boston, she said they passed service stations in New York where prices averaged about $4.09 only to find prices at stations in Connecticut averaging around $4.15.

"I'm going to be looking for part-time work, as long as it's something I can walk to," Honor said. "I'm spending more a week on gasoline now than I do on groceries."

For Jason Toews, the high cost of fuel means more work. Toews is a computer systems consultant and co-founder of Gasbuddy.com, which maintains websites for the 50 states where about 1.4 million members keep track of gasoline prices in their areas.

When Toews started in 2000, it was little more than a hobby. Now, he said, he's putting in 35 hours a week. "It's like having another full-time job."

Diesel prices are rising along with gasoline. The government said the national average was up 16.6 cents to a record $4.50 a gallon.

In two counties in the country -- Yukon-Koyukuk in Alaska and Mono in California -- diesel was selling for more than $5 a gallon, AAA said.

AAA said Alaska had the most expensive gasoline on a statewide basis, at $4.059 a gallon, followed by Connecticut at $4.035 and Illinois at $3.979.

The lowest statewide average was $3.591 in Arizona.



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