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Gas prices ballooning in Merced

A report from the AAA says the average price for gasoline rose 37 cents in Merced County last month, while national surveys show a spike in prices in the last two weeks.

The average price of self-serve regular gasoline on Friday was $3.19 a gallon, mid-grade was $3.31 and premium was $3.42, according to the Lundberg Survey of 7,000 stations nationwide released Sunday.

At the Texaco service station at 1415 R St., in Merced, store manager Amrik Randhawa said gasoline prices are out of his control. He said customers are good-natured about rising prices and he gives polite answers when questioned about fuel pricing policies.

Randhawa, who manages the store for his son, said many of his customers are traveling along nearby Highway 99 and report gas prices vary from location to location.

Prices change for each load of fuel received and his station has to make a reasonable profit. He said some people question him why prices are more per gallon in Merced than Livingston.

Harold Whippo of Arlington, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, was returning home after a trip to San Diego and was filling up at the Texaco station. He said spiking gas prices wouldn't get straightened out until President Bush leaves office.

Whippo said he paid $3.89 a gallon for unleaded regular on Interstate 5 near Bakersfield, $3.59 a gallon in San Diego and $3.25 a gallon just before leaving home.

Merced County's prices have soared considerably higher than the national average. The price of self-serve regular gasoline was $3.57, mid-grade was $3.80 and premium was 3.86.

Ramiro Abarca of Merced said he doesn't drive as much because of high gas prices and is buying less gas than he used to do.

"It's bad now, really expensive," Abarca said.

Richard Gutierrez of Stockton was visiting friends and family in Merced when he stopped for gas at the Shell station. He said gas prices are too high but he still drives too much. His Honda Prelude gets good gas mileage and he said he shops around for the best prices.

Of the cities included in the Lundberg survey, the cheapest price was in Cheyenne, Wyo., where a gallon of regular cost $2.95, on average. The highest was in San Francisco at $3.58.

Compared to a year ago, national gas prices are up 64 cents and 57 cents in Merced County.

As far as a reason for the bump, AAA official Richard Velazquez said in a release that the cause isn't production related.

"Oil industry analysts say that a major reason behind this spike is large amounts of investor money pushing up prices for wholesale gasoline and oil."

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Fuel gauge report

The average cost of a gallon of gasoline in Merced County has ebbed and flowed over the past year with a recent surge pushing the cost of filling up closer to $4.00 a gallon.

Regular Mid-grade Premium

Currently $3.57 $3.80 $3.86

1 month ago $3.20 $3.41 $3.46

1 year ago $3.00 $3.20 $3.25