LOS ANGELES — In California, coronavirus cases continue their downward trend, while vaccinations are pushing us on a steady path towards herd immunity, which this week LA County officials predicted could happen by mid-to-late July.
With the light at the end of the COVID tunnel, drivers are expected to hit the road in record numbers this Memorial Day holiday and in the coming summer months.
What You Need To Know
- Doug Shupe with the Auto Club of Southern California expects road trips to be "king" this summer
- According to numbers provided by AAA, in California, drivers are paying on average $4.06 for a gallon of regular unleaded
- There is ample fuel in the U.S.
- The AAA is estimating that more than 2.8 million Southern Californians will take trips over the Memorial Day holiday weekend
Doug Shupe with the Auto Club of Southern California expects the coming months to be very busy for road travel.
“Now that these vaccines are rolling out, we anticipate a lot of people are going to want to make up for lost time and hit the road,” he said. “This summer we think that the road trip is going to be king. Most people will be taking those road trips with their families. They are going to be visiting state parks, national parks and outdoor destinations. A lot of folks are going to be rediscovering America this summer.”
The AAA is estimating that more than 2.8 million Southern Californians will take trips over the Memorial Day holiday weekend — a 64% increase from last year. Just 1.7 million Southern California residents traveled over the same holiday in 2020, according to AAA. Last year also saw a 49% drop from 2019. It was also the lowest number since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000.
Driving continues to be the most economical way to travel for many despite the current high gas pump prices. In fact, the AAA estimates that nearly 90% of all travelers are expected to drive to their destinations, while more than 9% will fly.
According to numbers provided by AAA, in California, drivers are paying on average $4.06 for a gallon of regular unleaded. A year ago, it was $2.74. In the Los Angeles, Long Beach area, the average is even higher at $4.11. A year ago, it was $2.82. On average, drivers are paying on average $1.29 more than a year ago. Gas prices, according to AAA, are similar to what consumers were paying in 2019 at this time.
“If you put that into perspective for the typical 14 gallon size fuel tank, drivers are paying almost $18 more today to fill up that tank compared to a year ago. Here in California, unfortunately, we are one the states that has the higher gasoline prices and that’s because of the taxes we pay for our fuel,” said Shupe.
At the start of May, the national gas average was $2.93, which was three cents more than a month ago. A year ago, the national average was $1.78.
“We have not seen $3 gas in seven years now for national average. Some areas of the country are already there and I think there is concern that we will all be there if all these good economic news continues to drive up oil prices,” said Jeff Lenard, with the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.
According to AAA, the nation’s top ten least expensive markets to fill up are Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, Missouri, North Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee.
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According to Shupe, the reasons gas prices are on the rise are simple: the price of crude oil is going up, the more expensive summer fuel blend and demand.
“Demand has spiked for gasoline as more and more people become vaccinated and hit the roads and travel. Where the gas prices go after Memorial Day is a big question,” he said.
What is certain, according to Shupe and Lenard, is that there is no gasoline shortage.
The shortage of truck drivers who deliver fuel to convenience stores and gas stations is not expected to have a market-wide impact.
“We have an ample supply of gasoline in the U.S. We do not anticipate that this is going to be a widespread at all,” said Shupe.
“Fuel is plentiful, but we still need truckers to get it to the locations so that you are able to purchase it,” said Lenard. “Convenience stores are doing everything they can to work through those scenarios. They have a lot of experience with moving product related to various outages related to storms, earthquakes, hurricanes.”
According to Lenard, the shortage of truckers has been around for a few years, but the pandemic accelerated it because some truck drivers retired. The pandemic also made it difficult to train new ones.
“What we are looking at right now, with where we are, with fuel demand, and the economy in general, as it prospers that may create additional hiccups, while it may be good news for the economy, it is also very frustrating to consumers,” said Lenard.
Shupe’s advice to drivers is that if they encounter a station without gasoline, just drive to the next station because the shortage is not going to affect an entire city or an entire region.
What drivers can expect on the road, thanks to the pandemic, are clean bathrooms at convenience stores and gas stations.
“Convenience stores are looking to say, we are serious about cleanliness and keeping you safe even as we start to feel more normal,” said Lenard.
Despite the high gas pump prices, but with confidence there will be no gas shortages and clean facilities along the way, where will drivers go during the Memorial Day holiday?
According to a AAA survey of travel advisers, the top five destinations for Southern California travelers are:
- Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah
- Las Vegas
- Grand Canyon National Park
- San Diego
- Yosemite National Park
Among those who are flying, the top destination is Hawaii.
Regardless of where Californians are heading, everyone is urged to get a vaccine and follow local and state health guidelines.