Folks planning to hit the road for a vacation this summer finally got a break -- the price of gas is falling. But how far and for how long is, as always, anybody's guess. After weeks of rising gas prices, every metropolitan area in Northern California surveyed by AAA recorded a decline over the previous month.
Nowhere was the drop more significant than in Merced County, according to GasBuddy.com's website. Motorists reported Wednesday that the price for a gallon of regular was $4.03 in Merced, down a whopping 30 cents from the previous month.
Although not included in AAA's survey, Merced's decline over the past month was by far the most dramatic in the state. Eureka reported the biggest AAA drop, 13 cents during the same period, and most other cities in that survey were down a dime or less.
Elsewhere in the San Joaquin Valley, AAA found that Modesto's price was $4.03, Fresno $4.06, Tracy $4.03 and Stockton $4.05. And despite a big drop, Eureka's $4.32 is the highest in the lower 48 states, according to AAA.
California's average price for a gallon of regular is $4.10, down 11 cents from AAA's May 8 survey. But that's 16 cents higher that consumers were paying at the pump during the same period last year.
California has the fourth-highest state average for a gallon of gas, behind Washington state in third, Alaska in second and Hawaii in first.
AAA has predicted that fewer travelers will be taking to the roadways this summer because of high gas prices, and that those who do will be staying closer to home.
The decline in gas prices comes at a good time for valley consumers, who have been hard hit by the Great Recession and the housing market collapse nearly six years ago.
As the housing market sank and the economic downturn deepened in the valley, unemployment rates for the region exploded as business closures spread from housing-related operations, including finance and construction, to other areas of the economy, including the retail, service and government sectors.
There have been signs the economy is starting to improve, but economists acknowledge that the recovery has been slow to take hold in the valley. So, for struggling consumers, getting a break at the pump provides some relief.
Global economic troubles cited
AAA reports that the drop in prices is because of negative global economic news, which is driving down the price of crude oil, down $20 a barrel since the beginning of May.
California gas prices also usually spike in spring as refineries switch to less-polluting fuels required by the state. With that conversion complete, supplies of gasoline are expected to grow, helping to hold down prices.
And with crude oil prices typically lagging behind what folks pay at the pump, AAA said, the price of gas could fall further.
For now, however, the price of gas is coming down, school is out and the open road beckons. For many vacationers, the timing couldn't be better.