The cost of filling up at the pump is poised to fall after steadily climbing for five months, good news for consumers as the busiest part of the summer driving season gets underway.
Gas prices in Massachusetts hit $2.76 a gallon last week, up 70 cents from a low of $2.06 in February, but slid to $2.74 earlier this week, according to the auto club AAA Northeast.
Prices are expected to retreat further, perhaps as much as 10 cents a gallon, by July 4 as East Coast refineries that experienced outages are coming back into operation, said Jeff Pelton, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, a website that aggregates gas prices from the reports of its users. He expects local prices to drop to around $2.50 per gallon by the end of August, about $1 cheaper than a year earlier.
Despite increases in recent months, summer gasoline prices are at a five-year low as drivers benefit from a boom in US oil production that has helped push down global crude prices. Oil has traded this week below $60 a barrel in New York commodities markets, down from more than $100 a year ago. Crude closed at $56.85 Wednesday.
Lower prices and plentiful supplies have led to a surge in gasoline consumption as Americans not only drive more, but many buy bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks, analysts said. Over the past year, the combined US market share of SUVs, light trucks, and crossovers grew to 49.6 percent, from 45.6 percent while the share of small and mid-size cars dropped to 36.6 percent from 39.8 percent, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association, a trade group in McLean, Va.
Ernie Boch Jr., a car dealer who sells cars, trucks, SUVs and crossovers from multiple companies, said his sales of heavier, gas-guzzling vehicles have increased over the past several months, although he declined to give exact figures. “The second gas prices come down, hybrids slow down,” Boch said.
In the third week of June, Americans consumed an average of 9.7 million gallons of gasoline a day, up 10 percent from the 8.8 million gallons during the same period a year earlier, according to the Department of Energy. That’s the highest consumption for that period in at least a decade.
While it’s hard for drivers to complain about gas prices this summer, many have found — or rediscovered — another aggravation: traffic. AAA forecasts that 41.9 million people will travel more than 50 miles for leisure between July 1 and July 5, an increase of about 1 percent over last year. In Massachusetts, 1.1 million people will travel, including 931,000 who plan on driving.
Bernie DelDuca, 58, of Arlington, said she has already experienced long delays when she is headed home from Crane Beach in Ipswich on nice days. For the Independence Day weekend, DelDuca said she plans to go to any beach she can reach on a single tank of gasoline. She drives a 2006 Honda CRV, and low gas prices have kept the cost of filling her tank at around $35, compared to around $50 last year.
“Could I have a more fuel-efficient car? I could. But I’ve been without a car payment for about three years now,” said DelDuca, 58. Besides, she added, “$35 to go one-way somewhere isn’t that terrible.”
Other costs, such as for dining out and lodging, are offsetting gasoline savings for travelers. Mid-range hotels are 6 to 9 percent more expensive this year, with costs averaging $145 to $195, according to AAA. The cost of restaurant meals in the Boston area is up 2 percent from a year ago, according to the US Department of Labor.
Sara Stump, 32, of Somerville, is traveling to New York and Cape Cod with her husband for the Fourth of July weekend. Since they are staying with friends, she said, they expect food and restaurant meals to be their biggest expense. Fuel costs, she added, will not be a problem; in addition to lower gas prices, they are driving a Volkswagen Golf that gets about 34 miles per gallon on the highway. “If we thought that gas was going to be over our budget,” she said, “then we’d probably be taking the bus.”