Gas prices continue to dip in Eagle County
By the numbers
$2.19: Current national average for regular gasoline
$3.32: National average for regular gasoline one year ago
$2.50: Current price of regular gas in Vail
$3.62: Price of regular gas in Vail one year ago
Source: AAA, fuelgaugereport.aaa.com
EAGLE COUNTY — When the gas pump chugged to a stop at $35 at an Avon Conoco station, Charmayne McElhiney quickly did the math. That was roughly $15 less than she was spending earlier in 2014 before gas prices began dropping, she said.
“It’s pretty nice,” said the Steamboat Springs resident. “Before it was about 50 bucks.”
“It’s a good thing — that’s all I have to say,” said another driver filling up his car.
They aren’t the only ones who are taking note of plummeting gasoline prices. Motorists around the country have been watching prices steadily slide downward for the past three months, hitting prices that drivers haven’t seen in years. According to AAA, earlier this week, 35 percent of U.S. gas stations were selling gas for less than $2 per gallon on Tuesday.
In Eagle County, prices aren’t quite that low — as of Tuesday they logged in at $2.45 in Avon, $2.40 in Edwards, $2.50 in Vail and $2.15 in Eagle.
However, drivers are still seeing huge savings, with prices having fallen about $1.10 since this time last year. While most drivers haven’t taken the savings on a shopping spree, many said the break was welcome during the Christmas gift-buying season and that they felt more comfortable spending on other things.
McElhiney said she estimates she’s saving about $60 a month on gas.
“I consider that two plane tickets to somewhere warm,” she said.
Mark Fry, of Cincinnati, was on vacation in the valley and filling up his SUV. Prices here aren’t nearly as cheap as at home, where prices have hit $1.68, said Fry, but he still said he likes seeing the savings.
“We’ve been going out to eat more,” he said.
Edwards resident Troy Dixon said he thinks the drop in prices will have the overall effect of getting people to spend more. He said he hasn’t personally seen a huge difference in his pocketbook, but that he is much more likely to make trips down to Denver.
“I think if people have more money, they’ll spend it,” he said. “That said, we travel a lot anyway because my son plays hockey (around the state), so we’d have to drive even if gas prices go back up.”
Public transit saves
While individuals are seeing noticeable savings, town governments and public transit are seeing even bigger savings. The town of Vail’s public buses run on diesel fuel, which is more expensive than gas, but has still dropped $1.30 per the town’s contracted rate since January 2014. Unleaded fuel for the town’s other vehicles has come down nearly $2 since February. Altogether, Vail fleet manager Todd Scholl said the town is getting a huge financial break.
“We’re saving about a $1 per gallon compared to before, so if prices stay the way they are now, we’d save $130,000,” Scholl said.
The county’s ECO Transit is seeing similar savings.
“For every $1 drop in the price of diesel, we save $230,000 in fuel costs per year,” said Kelley Collier, ECO Transit director of transportation. And, she adds, bus ridership is seeing double-digit increases despite the cheaper gas prices.
Scholl said Vail is still aiming to reach their greenhouse gas reduction goals, and he hopes that the recent low-price trend won’t affect local and national efforts to curb fossil fuel use.
Like many other consumers, he said he wasn’t confident that prices would stay low.
“Personally, I think this is a short-term thing. In the long term, prices will go back up,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of gas shortages in my life, and even though the current price drop is not due to a shortage, I’m always skeptical when prices come back down. We saw this in 2008, when the economy was tanking — fuel prices plummeted to really low levels and eventually things ticked back up.”
While that may be true, some fuel analysts think that prices will stay relatively low throughout 2015.
GasBuddy’s gasoline forecast predicts that 2015’s national average for gas prices will see a slight increase from current prices, but at worst barely bump $3 a gallon in some places.
“Towards the end of 2014, the market showed bountiful supply, strong production and not enough demand to suck up the inventory. Much of these factors will carry over into 2015. Overall, prices at the pump will be lower than it has been in recent years, and once again the $2 sign will become a familiar number to see on the street corners,” said Allison Mac, GasBuddy petroleum analyst.
The gas tracker service report predicted that prices would spike around May with the average price around $3 and gradually dropping back down to $2.39 by December.
The forecast also predicted significant volatility in prices that could depend on factors like hurricane season, geopolitical issues and OPEC production and whether some states will increase gasoline taxes.
For the more expensive diesel, forecasts predict that prices will drop about 30 cents by the end of the year to a national average of $2.67.
GasBuddy projected that if gas prices stay low as predicted, it will amount to a savings of $97 billion for motorists at the pump in 2015.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.