Prices fall after summer spike

LAWRENCEVILLE - Hurricanes and war in the Middle East jolted gas prices above $3 a gallon a year ago, but the cost of filling a tank has fallen this month.

The average cost of gasoline in Atlanta was $2.57 Wednesday, down two cents from the day before and 42 cents from last month's prices, according to AAA's daily fuel gauge report. In Gwinnett, gas has been seen for more than 10 cents below the metropolitan average.

But for some, that still seems too high.

Lawrenceville resident Stevie Gray said he is glad to see the prices fall - he is moving to Dallas and has to make several trips between here and Texas - but that they are still higher than he would like.

Gray said he'll no longer drive somewhere just for fun, as he would have in the past. Filling up his Suburban is too costly, he said, to drive for pleasure.

"People are looking around for any kind of break," he said. "I'm doing no joy riding. I go straight where I want to go and back."

Amr Elghamry enjoys driving and used to volunteer to take his friends to school or work. Pumping gas Wednesday, Elghamry said he still helps when needed, but asks his friends for gas money now.

Gas prices that are still well above the $2 mark means Elghamry has to think twice about the cost before he hops into his car, he said.

Randy Bly, a spokesman for AAA Autoclub South, said he wouldn't be surprised to see gas fall much closer to $2 - perhaps to $2.10 or $2.20 a gallon. But getting below the $2 threshold is unlikely, he said, even with word of an oil discovery in the Gulf of Mexico.

The new deposit would be the biggest found in a generation, Bly said, and even though oil from it couldn't be used for several years, its existence alone could cause prices to fall.

The end of the summer travel season may also factor in to the lower prices.

"It's a whole different world right now in terms of energy prices," Bly said. "It's always right on a thin edge. If something does go wrong, if things flare up with Hezbollah in Israel, if North Korea goes crazy - it will create spikes in the prices again. But it's settled down."

Fuel prices tend to be cyclical, Bly said, going down in the fall and up in the spring barring any unforeseen problems like last year's hurricanes that damaged oil pipelines.

That is both because more driving is done in the summer and because many areas are only required to use so-called boutique fuels in the warm months. Gwinnett and 53 other Georgia counties must use the special blend of gas designed to reduce ground-level ozone year-round.

Jason Park, who works at a Citgo Station on the corner of Hurricane Shoals and Collins Hill roads, said if anything, he has sold more gas in the year and a half since he switched to prepay before prices soared than he used to.

Park said he only makes $100 or $200 a week on gasoline - the rest of his profits come from sales inside the store - so when even two people filled their cars and drove off, he lost his week's profits.

Now, customers can only get gas if they use a credit card or pay in cash beforehand. Park said consumers seem to be understanding of the changes.

"It's hard for me to sell the store in two minutes," he said. "If you give me money, I'm not going to run away with it."

Justin Chelko said he spends between $150 and $200 a week on gas, and often drives 150 miles a day for his work as a subcontractor. High prices don't make the job impossible, he said, but because he pays for his gas out of pocket, Chelko said he wishes for lower fuel prices because that would mean more money is coming directly to him.

Chelko longs for the days of $1.30 a gallon but said he doesn't expect to see them any time soon. He said instead of doing more exploratory drilling, people should be looking into alternative fuels like ethanol to run their vehicles.

All around, people said they are consolidating errands and cutting out trips to save money on fuel.

Looking at lottery results that had some of her numbers in a Chevron gas station, Erieka Butler - who had not bought a ticket - said winning some extra cash would have been nice to help with gas. She, too, said she only runs errands that are absolutely necessary and has stopped visiting people out of town.

"You never know nowadays," she said. "I'm very cautious. I think about where I'm going to go because prices are high."