Drivers can expect to spend less on gasoline this Memorial Day weekend than last year's, even though prices have edged upward in advance of the official start of the summer driving season.
Regular gasoline averaged $3.78 a gallon Wednesday on Long Island, the AAA, a motorist group, said based on a survey of stations. That's up 4.6 cents a gallon from the recent low point of $3.734 on April 27.
But it's also 21.4 cents less than a year earlier.
The reasons in a nutshell: stronger supplies and lower demand.
"This will probably be the cheapest summer for motorists since the end of the recession," said Stephen Schork, editor of the industry newsletter The Schork Report.
The recent uptick is normal and seasonal, in anticipation of stronger demand as a holiday weekend approaches, said Gene McGillian, an analyst and broker at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Conn. "A lot of times you see prices firm as we approach the peak driving season," he said.
Drivers fueling up Wednesday at Advance Fuels in Huntington Station weren't surprised. "They jack up the prices right before the holiday so they can make more money," said Antonios Saragias, 32, who said he's moving from Malverne to Huntington in order to be closer to his job and cut costs.
But McGillian said the fundamentals suggest generally stable prices to come. The U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday that gasoline supplies on the East Coast rose by about 3 percent from a week earlier, to 63.3 million barrels, and were up almost 18 percent from a year earlier. Schork credits strong refinery output.
Demand for gasoline is up seasonally from midwinter, as warm weather increases discretionary driving. However, for mid-May, gas usage is at the lowest level since 2000, says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for GasBuddy, the price information service operated by the New Jersey-based Oil Price Information Service.
"There's a shift in behavior -- people are driving less," Kloza said. One reason for that: a switch by many drivers to more fuel-efficient vehicles. Another, said Kloza: slow economic growth.
Said Schork, "The bottom line is we have more Priuses on the road and fewer Suburbans. So consumption is going down."
The Energy Department said American drivers purchased 6.5 percent less gasoline last week than a year earlier. The department has forecast U.S. gasoline pump prices averaging 1.8 percent lower this summer than last -- at about $3.63 for regular. The department does not specifically forecast Long Island prices.