Massachusetts gasoline prices are higher than a year ago heading into the Memorial Day weekend, but the worst might be over for motorists as summer driving season gets underway.
Plentiful supplies of crude oil at US refineries, increased production as maintenance-related shutdowns end, and cheaper gasoline imports from Europe should lead to lower prices during the summer, analysts said. Prices have already seen small declines in recent weeks, they noted.
Timothy Hess, a petroleum analyst for the US Department of Energy, said he expects gasoline prices to drop another 10 cents to 15 cents, to about $3.50, on the East Coast by September.
“Right around now should be the peak,” he said. “We typically see prices peak sometime in late spring, early summer.”
AAA Southern New England reported earlier this week that the state’s average unleaded gas price was $3.65 a gallon, down 3 cents from the start of the month, but 16 cents higher per gallon than a year ago. The national average was also $3.65 a gallon, down 2 cents from the beginning of May, and unchanged from a year ago.
Slightly higher local fuel prices are unlikely to deter people from traveling during the long Memorial Day weekend, said Shane Norton, an economist at IHS Global Insight, a Lexington forecasting firm. Most drivers have come to see gas in $3.60 per gallon range as run-of-the mill.
Nationally, AAA predicts the number of travelers during the long Memorial Day weekend to hit a postrecession high. Some 36.1 million Americans are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home between Thursday and Monday, a 1.5 percent increase over the 35.5 million who traveled during the holiday last year.
Among the key reasons for the increase is the slowly improving economy. US unemployment, 6.3 percent in April, is declining and incomes are growing, according to Norton, who helped prepare the AAA forecast. The brightening economic outlook, meanwhile, is giving consumers the confidence to spend.
Another factor is the weather. After a long, cold winter that kept Americans inside and close to home, the warmer weather is enticing them to get out and get away.
“The winter blues appear to have given Americans the travel bug and a case of cabin fever,” Marshall L. Doney, AAA’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “Travel for the holiday is expected to hit a new postrecession high.”
Lisa Feldman, general manager for Zipcar in Boston, said the car-sharing company usually sees a jump in members renting cars around Memorial Day, as people head to the Cape or take day trips.
“After such a long winter, I think we’re going to see record activity as people want to take advantage of the spring and summer,” Feldman said. “I know I want to.”
North End resident Harsh Singh, who recently finished graduate school, said he’ll take advantage of the long weekend for the first time in years.
He plans to drive to Burlington, Vt., to spend time with friends.
Singh, who drives a hybrid, expects gas for the trip, depending on how much driving he does after he gets there, to cost no more than $80, if he has to fill up twice.
“Right now because it’s about $3.70 [a gallon] I’m still only spending $35 to $40 at the pump,” he said.