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AAA forecasts decreased 4th-of-July travel

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By M.J. Subiria Arauz

marauz@news-daily.com

The recent increase in prices at the gas pump, compared to last year, has persuaded some Georgia residents to stay home for Independence Day, according to a spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association (AAA) Auto Club South.

Jessica Brady said that although the Peach State is expected to have a total of one million overall travelers for the coming holiday weekend, from Thursday, June 30, to Monday, July 4, Georgia is projected to have a decrease of 2.4 percent in overall travel. Nationwide, it is projected that 39 million Americans will travel -- a 2.5 percent decrease from the 40 million travelers in 2010.

These travelers will commute 50 miles or more away from home, she said.

"AAA projects a slight decrease in the number of Independence Day travelers as a result of gas prices averaging a dollar or more per gallon than the last year," added Brent Hubele, vice president of AAA Travel.

Lower-income households will have to dedicate a large portion of their budget on their total fuel expenditures, Brady said.

Furthermore, she explained, travelers with household incomes of $50,000 or less are expected to fall from 41 percent in 2010, to 33 percent. Travelers with incomes of $100,000 are expected to experience a hike of 35 percent, compared to 26 percent in 2010, she said.

"As with the Memorial Day holiday, the rising cost of fuel is having a more significant impact on those with lower household discretionary spends, and has shifted the demographics of the typical Independence Day traveler," confirmed Hubele.

* Auto Travel to go down 3.5 percent from 2010

The state will experience a 3.5 percent decrease in auto travel, with 903,402 projected travelers, said Brady. About 32.8 million people in the U.S., plan to drive, compared to the 33.7 million auto travelers in 2010, she said.

"Despite the declines, auto travel still remains the dominant mode of transportation for the holiday weekend, making up 84 percent of all holiday travelers," she said.

Though gas costs are higher than in 2010, the cost of fuel has decreased for the holiday weekend, according to Brady.

She said the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced the release of 60 million barrels of oil into the market, last week.

According to the agency's web site, www.iea.org, it is an autonomous organization that works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28-member countries, which include the U.S.

Thirty million barrels will come from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and the rest of the barrels will derive from other countries, she said. This decision was concluded after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) did not reach an agreement to increase production quotas to assist in relieving high oil prices and compensating for the loss of Libyan sweet crude, during their meeting in early June, she explained.

Brady said following the release of the oil reserves, crude costs dropped on June 24 and settled at $91.16 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, which was $1.85 less from the week before.

"The IEA's decision to release oil reserves into the market is part of an effort to help stimulate the economy by making gas prices less of a burden on consumers and hopefully create more disposable income," said Brady.

She said though oil prices have been decreasing before IEA's announcement, the reserves will aid in maintaining low oil prices, causing retail gas prices to decline more for the weeks ahead.

"On average gas prices have fallen 5 cents a week and the trend is expected to continue," she said.

Georgia's average price for unleaded regular gasoline is $3.50 a gallon, a 6-cent decrease from last week, said Brady. Nationwide, the average price is $3.57 a gallon, 8 cents less from last week, she explained.

This AAA Auto Club South's fuel price brief will last until Saturday, July 2, said Brady. A new report is scheduled to be released on Sunday, July 3.

According to the Associated Press, Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed an executive order, which froze Georgia's gasoline tax. This will save drivers an estimated $40 million in taxes, officials said.

* Air Travel to experience increase

Georgia will have a sharp increase of 21.5 percent in air travel, with 84,485 people opting to hop on an airplane, according to the spokeswoman. Last year, the state had 68,711 air travelers for the Independence Day holiday weekend, she said.

It is projected that over 3 million people will travel by air nationwide, a 9 percent increase from the 2.75 million air travelers last year, she said.

"For many, the increased cost of auto travel makes flying a more viable option, despite recent increases in air fares," said Brady.

She said the remaining 8 percent of travelers nationwide will opt to journey on other modes of transportation, including rail, bus or watercraft.