By Johnny Jackson
As the holiday travel season creeps closer each day, motorists are seeing gas prices dip to levels not seen for several years.
Crude oil prices dropped $10 per barrel last week, pushing retail gas prices down to the lowest they have been in more than three years. Crude oil closed below $50 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX).
Nationwide, the average price of gasoline fell below $2 per gallon, the lowest level since March 2005.
Gas is now about $1.18 per gallon cheaper than this time a year ago. The average is about $1.22 cheaper locally. For metro Atlanta, the price of relugar gas has continued to fall since the $4.11 per gallon record set on Sept. 16.
The average price of gasoline in the Southeast - Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee-fell last week by 16-, 15- and 16-cents respectively. As the price of crude oil continues to decline, U.S. retail gas prices are expected to continue to fall through at least the end of the year.
"There is a growing chorus of analysts who have joined OPEC in lowering their demand forecasts for 2009, and it is especially telling that Goldman, Sachs (the global investment banking firm) is among them," said Gregg Laskoski, managing director, public relations, AAA Auto Club South. "Goldman Sachs this week said it is 'closing all of its oil trading recommendations ...' and this occurs less than six months after it forecast that crude oil would reach $200 per barrel."
The firm's unmet forecast and others helped drive up crude oil prices, according to Laskoski.
He said there is always the potential for exaggeration in forecasting oil prices. Depending on demand, gasoline prices may climb slightly, or remain where they are during the Thanksgiving holidays, Laskoski said.
"It's pretty reasonable to expect gas prices to go up any time we approach the travel holidays," he added. "At the same time, we have seen instances, just in the last few years, where gas prices did not increase during the holiday."
The best thing consumers can do to help keep gas prices low, he said, is to conserve gas. "We've already seen this year, that fuel conservation is having a very positive effect," Laskoski said. "It's enabling us to build the gasoline inventory, and that helps to bring the price down."
Despite lower gas prices, officials with The Clean Air Campaign say there are other ways commuters can save even more money and, at the same time, reduce the demand for gasoline.
"Everyone is looking for ways to save right now, and many people think they've trimmed back everywhere they can," said Kevin Green, executive director of The Clean Air Campaign. "But anyone who is still driving alone to work has an opportunity to save hundreds of dollars, or more, a year. Those savings could go toward gifts, parties or even your favorite charity this holiday season."
The Clean Air Campaign's Cash for Commuters program pays drive-alone commuters $3 a day -- up to $180 over three months -- when they switch to carpooling, teleworking, taking transit, walking or biking to work.
Also, so that shoppers can avoid traffic nightmares before Christmas, free transit services are being offered to shoppers who are "car-free commuters," in several areas of metro Atlanta. To learn more, visit CleanAirCampaign.com, or call 1-877-CLEANAIR.