Gasoline prices smashed the $4-per-gallon mark on the Illinois side of the St. Louis area this week, and it looks like they will keep going up.
Mike Right, vice president of public affairs for the AAA Auto Club of Missouri in St. Louis, said he doesn't think the peak pricing for gasoline has been reached.
"It's terrible," he said about the rise over $4 in the Metro East. "You never see gas prices peak in March. We haven't seen the worst yet."
Prices were standing at $4.09 a gallon for regular at several convenience stores Thursday.
Last year, the highest statewide average price for a gallon of self-service, regular unleaded gas in Illinois was $4.32 on May 5. The highest price in St. Louis last year was $3.95 on May 12.
"Right now, gas is about $4.38 a gallon in Chicago," Right said. "Chicago had a high of $3.66 on this day in 2011. There was an article in USA Today that said gas prices aren't breaking consumers, but I think this is premature, and prices will go higher. I think the impact will be noticeable on other consumer spending, including at restaurants, travel and other purchases."
Asked how he thought gas prices would influence this year's elections, Right said that, unfortunately, that is part of the job of holding political office.
"There are probably some things the president can do, but I don't know if they can turn it down to $2 overnight," he said. "The main culprit for the high gas prices right now is what is going on with Iran, and there is a great deal of anxiety worldwide.
"We don't have an oil supply problem. If we would release crude from oil reserves, whether or not it would have a positive impact on crude oil prices is anybody's guess."
Several major refineries have closed, and that will have a negative impact gas pricing, especially on the East Coast, Right said. The other key point Right made was that the highest gas prices of the year never occur in March, but later in the spring or summer.
"Sometimes we have our highest prices in April, but more often we pay our highest prices in May, June or July," he said. "There is also a conversion from winter to summer fuel, and that often causes a run-up in prices.
"People have to address their family budgets to accommodate the increased costs. It's not like gasoline prices are part of the disposable income account in a family budget, but they are part of the essential costs. You have to make choices."
Right said he feels most Americans are "tired" of hearing about the ups and downs of gas prices.
He said he couldn't predict whether the Metro East will see gas prices rise to $5 per gallon.
"I would certainly hope not. It is possible, especially if we have had some major disruption of the availability of crude in significant amounts. I am not predicting $5-a-gallon gas, though."
Last year on March 15, gas prices were at $3.60 in East St. Louis, and now they are slightly higher than $4, so there has been a 40-cent-plus increase in 12 months.
"I just don't think we have reached our peak with the gas prices yet," Right said.
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