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GAS GETTING LESS PRICEY
AVERAGE GALLON COSTS 11 CENTS LESS THAN A MONTH AGO

The local weather's not looking so good this weekend, but at least you'll pay less to fill up if you're taking a road trip.

Gasoline prices are down, at least for now. They're typically increasing at this time of year, as more motorists take vacations and drive up demand.

The average self-serve gallon in the region sold for $1.60 per gallon on Wednesday, the same price as the day before, according to a daily survey by the American Automobile Association. It's down 11 cents a gallon from a month ago, but up 9 cents a gallon from a year ago.

To put that in perspective, someone with a 20-gallon SUV is paying $32 to fill the tank, compared with $34.20 a month ago. A year ago, it cost the same driver $30.20 to fill up.

So why aren't gas prices rising?

One explanation might be that prices were unusually high earlier this year and have only recently dropped to more typical levels, said Jim Yoerg, a spokesman for AAA of Western and Central New York. The region's all-time record high of $1.78 per gallon was set in mid-March.

The AAA estimates that more than 29 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles from home by car this weekend. That's up only 0.3 percent from last year, so it shouldn't really drive up demand for fuel too much, according to a U.S. Energy Department forecast.

Craig Badger, group rental manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said bookings are up about 15 percent to 20 percent in the region from a year ago.

"The vans and the SUVs book up first, usually," said Badger, who oversees the Western New York market.

Badger said customers haven't brought up gas prices as an issue, although many have taken advantage of deals on economy vehicles.

The Energy Department reports that gasoline supplies in the United States are adequate, and the dreary weather forecast for this weekend might even scuttle some travel plans.

The agency also predicts that gas prices this summer shouldn't exceed the March highs, unlike in past years when the price peaks came later in the year.

Some of the factors that were blamed for higher gas prices earlier this year, such as the Northeast's deep freeze and prewar tensions over Iraq, have subsided.

"They're lower because crude (oil prices) have come down, but there's still some volatility," said Michael Doyle, executive director of the New York State Petroleum Council.

Industry analysts say other international events, such as the bombings in Saudi Arabia, could eventually have a trickle-down effect on pump prices. The price of crude has already showed signs of moving up again.

TABLE: GAUGING FUEL
How the region's average price of self serve gasoline per gallon stacks up:

Buffalo Niagara

Wednesday: $1.60
Month ago: $1.71
Year ago: $1.51

New York State

Wednesday: $1.64
Month ago: $1.74
Year ago: $1.51

United States

Wednesday: $1.50
Month ago: $1.58
Year ago: $1.41

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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