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Gas for less than $2 a gallon? ‘This is like a tax cut for people’

Even on a cold, blustery morning in late January, Dottie Perry can find a reason to smile.

On this weekend day, it’s the memory of an old Ford Explorer, her pride and joy, and the $25, a lot of money at the time, that it took to fill the gas tank.

Nearly a decade later, the good old days are back. And so is the unthinkable, the return of gas at less than $2 a gallon.

And, yes, that makes Perry, a Buffalo resident, smile.

“I never thought it would happen, but I kept the faith,” she said while filling her gas tank at Delta Sonic on Main Street in Buffalo.

For the first time since 2009, gas prices at a few scattered locations in and around Buffalo have fallen below $2 a gallon.

For folks such as Les Hoffman, of Buffalo, it’s a welcome change from the days when it cost him more than double that amount to gas up his car.

“I drove up and was pleasantly surprised,” Hoffman said as he filled up at Delta Sonic. “This is like a tax cut for people. It’s a help.”

Even though the average price of gas in Buffalo remains above $2 a gallon – $2.09, to be precise – it’s hard to find motorists who aren’t gushing over the sudden drop in prices.

And the extra cash in their pockets.

“Prices have dropped almost every day for the past two months, and we expect them to continue to drop,” said Elizabeth Carey, spokeswoman for AAA of Western and Central New York.

The drop in prices began several years ago, but Carey says it accelerated in recent months. The result is $2 a gallon gas for the first time in years:

Weak world economy

Economists say lower prices at the pump are driven by plunging oil prices – the price of crude recently fell below $60 a barrel for the first time in five years – and the general weakness of the world economy, including the debt crisis in Europe and the economic slowdown in China.

They also point to a strong dollar and the recent emphasis on creating more fuel-efficient vehicles as contributing factors.

GasBuddy, which monitors fuel prices in Buffalo and across the country, expects the price cut trend to continue for a fourth consecutive year.

The company says prices may tick upward in the spring, normal for that time of year, but indicated that consumers, overall, will spend less money on gas this year compared with last year.

“We’re confident that when we reach the end of 2016, the roller coaster ride will net savings over fuel purchases of last year, especially for savvy motorists who shop for the cheapest gasoline prices,” Gregg Laskoski, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, said in a statement earlier this month.

But how far will the price drop?

Carey says far enough that Buffalo could finally “enjoy” an average price of less than $2 a gallon.

The region has a long history of gas prices that are higher than the national average, in large part because of state gas taxes.

“We still pay more than everyone else,” Russ Jones, of Buffalo, said as he filled up this past weekend. “Thank you, New York State.”

And yet Jones welcomes the lower prices. He used to cough up $100 to fill his truck. It’s now closer to $30.

“It’s a big chunk of change,” he said of the money he saves.

Where are lowest prices?

For Alan Louis, an Allentown resident, the lower prices come at a good time.

“I have two jobs, so I need reliable transportation,” Louis said. “Going from $4 a gallon to under $2 a gallon helps a lot.”

A few feet away, Dave Curry, a Parkside resident living temporarily outside Albany, said the drop in gas prices has made his trek up and down the Thruway a lot more palatable.

He’s also glad to see the prices in his hometown finally catch up with the rest of upstate.

“This is the same price as in Albany,” Curry said as he stood at the pumps. “Usually, we’re higher here, and, because I’m driving back to Albany soon, it’s good to see the prices here dropping.”

In Western New York, the truly savvy consumer will tell you that the cheapest available gas can be had by driving south and north of the city and finding a Native American gas station.

Prices there are 60 to 70 cents a gallon cheaper.

“Our customers are very happy,” said Leah Adams, an employee at Native Pride Too, a gas station on Milestrip Road in Irving.

On Saturday, Native Pride was selling its gas for $1.37 a gallon, the lowest price around, according to GasBuddy. It’s also down by more than a dime in the last month.

“We probably did double what we did on the same day several weeks ago,” Adams said of the business that Native Pride did Friday.

“We’re seeing quite a bit more people.”

Price disparity noted

Mel McKnight is one of those enjoying the lower prices, but he’s also angry over the disparity in prices, especially in Buffalo’s inner city.

He still sees gas stations with prices 10 to 20 cents a gallon higher than the local average of $2.09 a gallon. “That’s not fair to the consumers,” McKnight said.

He also wonders why economists are quick to question the benefits of lower gas prices – some experts worry that a global recession could result – and suggested that it’s the lower and middle classes that deserve a break.

Like McKnight, Hoffman has heard the economists talk and doesn’t buy their doom and gloom predictions.

“I think we’re OK,” he said.

He’s also guessing that anyone who paid $4 a gallon would agree.