ALEX COHEN, host:
From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.
Memorial Day weekend is here. Time to head out on open road, but doing so won't be cheap. The national average price for gas hit $3.23 a gallon this week. So how is that going to affect Americans' travel plans? MARKETPLACE's Amy Scott is here.
Amy, are drivers showing any signs of cutting back?
AMY SCOTT: Well, not according to AAA. The American Automobile Association says more than 32 million people plan to hit the road this weekend in cars, trucks and RVs. That's about two percent more than last year, when gas prices were quite a bit cheaper. What people might do, AAA says, is travel closer to home, seek out cheaper hotels and restaurants, but they're not giving up their vacations.
COHEN: So Amy, 3.23 a gallon - what's behind these high prices?
SCOTT: Some of it is your typical supply and demand. Analysts say there is plenty of crude oil out there right now, but not enough capacity in the refineries that produce gasoline. Some refineries had outages this spring, which pushed prices up.
But I talked to Tom Kloza with the Oil Price Information Service. He says there's a bit of mythology going on as well. Kloza says people talk about driving season as if it's duck hunting or something. But he says Americans drive so much throughout the year for various reasons - you know, commuting, weekend trips - that demand doesn't actually change all that much this time of year.
Mr. TOM KLOZA (Oil Price Information Service): We tend to get a little bit all dressed up with no place to go. We do have pre-season rallies, and fear and money drive the rally. And there's the fear that this is the year that we're not going to have enough gasoline to meet demand. You know, that tends to reach a crescendo around Memorial Day. And then after that, you know, the first three weeks of June tend to be kind of sedate without any spectacular demand.
SCOTT: That allows refineries to build up their supplies. And then when demand picks up a bit more in July and August, those refineries are better prepared. Of course with hurricane season also getting underway, there is a risk of supply disruptions. And if any big storms hit the Gulf this year, that could change everything.
COHEN: So for this Memorial Day weekend, now is there anything that drivers can do aside from just keeping the car in the garage?
SCOTT: Well, if you live in Michigan, you may have an interesting option. This week a chain of gas stations started offering text message alerts to cell phones when prices are about to go up. They'll send their customers a message in the morning, giving them a chance to fill up before prices jump in the afternoon. There are also signs people are changing their habits or at least thinking about it. An Associated Press poll out today says 47 percent of people surveyed are considering buying a more fuel-efficient car, compared to 39 percent a year ago.
COHEN: All right. I know I will be looking out on the roads for people checking those text messages on their cell phones as they drive for cheap gas prices. Thanks so much, Amy.
Amy Scott of Public Radio's daily business show MARKETPLACE. It's produced by American Public Media.
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