LIHUE — Kauai residents may have noticed — and no doubt welcomed — a bit of relief at the pumps in recent weeks.
After four years — 1,409 consecutive days to be exact — of a national average above $3 per gallon, the price for regular unleaded gasoline fell to $2.99 on Nov. 1. It marked the first time prices have reached that mark since Dec. 22, 2010, according to AAA.
In Hawaii, however, the average price remains more than 25 percent higher, at $4.01 per gallon — down 2 cents from a week before, 16 cents from last month and 6 cents lower than a year ago, according to the AAA Hawaii Weekend Gas Watch.
“Dropping?” asked a surprised Wade Sakamoto as he filled a gas can with $4.19 per gallon unleaded fuel in Lihue Friday afternoon. “Not enough!”
Sakamoto said $3.80 would be something worth celebrating, and that paying current prices, especially for his diesel pickup, is a real bother.
“It’s demand, yeah? Supply and demand,” he said. “So, we have no choice.”
While gas prices fell to $3.90 per gallon on Thursday in Honolulu, stations in Lihue were charging $4.19. The most expensive fuel on Kauai could be found at the Chevron in the North Shore community of Princeville, which was charging $4.62 a gallon.
But as locals are no doubt used to hearing, Hawaii’s prices remain much higher than the rest of the states because it’s costly to ship products here.
“Hawaii gas prices are high due to its location and also high transportation expense to bring fuel to the islands,” AAA Hawaii spokeswoman Elaine Beno wrote in an email.
And due to its location compared to Oahu, Kauai gets hit even harder, according to Beno.
So what would it take for prices in Hawaii to drop below the $3 mark?
“It really isn’t a matter of how low Mainland prices would need to get,” Beno said. “It’s more about oil prices and demand. Oil is about $80 a barrel right now and it’s putting downward pressure on prices.”
Beno said the fall season is typically when demand for gasoline drops, with prices declining as a result. There is also cost savings associated with producing winter-blend gasoline, according to AAA.
The organization predicts the national average may fall another 5-15 cents in the coming weeks, which could make for the cheapest Thanksgiving gas in half a decade.
Thomas Simpkins said he is glad to see some relief, but suspects it has something to do with the recent general election.
“It will probably go back up after, I think,” he said. “I really do.”
Simpkins said he spends about $100 filling up each of his cars, including the work van he put a fresh hundred dollar bill into Friday.
“It’s really hefty on my pocket,” he said.
Beno said one of the big questions drivers always have is what to expect moving forward. Will prices go back up? Stay the same? Or, fingers crossed, drop even lower?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.
“We don’t know what the price of oil will be, (what) geopolitical events will occur and how other factors that impact retail prices will play out in the coming months,” Beno wrote.
However, she said there are ways drivers can save money, including using a gentle driving style, combining errands and keeping vehicles maintained.
“Driving style is key to fuel efficiency,” she wrote. “Smooth acceleration and smooth stops, and scanning and anticipating traffic conditions can greatly increase fuel efficiency.”
For those visiting from the Mainland, where places like Tennessee and South Carolina have reached as low as $2.60 per gallon, prices in the Islands may be hard to swallow. A recent tally by AAA of state average prices around the country show Alaska at $3.66 a gallon, California at $3.26 and Oregon at $3.09.
For California resident Candy Gregson they didn’t come as a total surprise.
“This is our fourth time here on Kauai and we were kind of expecting to see a little higher,” she said. “We understand you guys got to get the stuff here.”
When she and her family left home last week, gasoline was $3.49.
“We’re getting ripped off in California, too,” she said.
Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.