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Gas prices break $3 mark — again

Gas prices spiked over the weekend, breaking through the $3 per-gallon mark on Friday.

It may get worse. The price of oil is rising on the eve of the country’s summer vacation season, and that’s left many drivers upset. Over the past two weeks gas prices have risen more than 25 cents in many places.

It’s a problem nationwide, but drivers on Whidbey Island were hit even more than mainlanders, as gas was slightly more expensive to begin with here on the island.

As of Monday, gas stations on South Whidbey averaged $3.05 per gallon. Some gas stations in Oak Harbor posted their regular gas at $3.09.

To the north, drivers are digging even deeper into their pockets at the pump. The most expensive gas was reported from Point Roberts at $3.31 per gallon.

Yakima had the lowest gas prices, with one gas station offering fuel at $2.59 per gallon.

The Freeland Shell station tried to keep prices lower as long as possible, but over the weekend the business had to adjust its prices as well.

“When I left on Friday, we were at $2.99,” Shell manager Larry Hooker said.

But over the weekend the prices rose to $3.05. On Monday afternoon, Hooker had to get back on his ladder to change the big yellow price numbers on the gas station board to $3.09 for a gallon of regular fuel.

The high prices have a familiar feel; gas prices on the island hit the same levels after the Katrina disaster last year disrupted fuel supplies.

Customers are not happy.

“We get to hear a lot about it,” Hooker said. “But it’s gonna get worse.”

Last week, gas rose an average 9 cents per day, Hooker said. He receives pricing updates twice a day.

“Sometimes, we would get to work and sell at cost, because the prices had risen over night,” he said.

Rising gas prices affects business, too.

People buy less gas, Hooker said. And many people set aside a certain amount of money for gas and they will stick to their budget.

Others, however, are filling up now because they fear gas will get even more expansive if they wait, he said.

And that may be the way to go as gas prices are expected to keep rising.

“It’s the smart thing to do,” Hooker said.

Another smart alternative is trading the four-wheeled gas-guzzler for a motorcycle, at least temporarily.

“This thing gets great mileage,” said Darryl Nikula as he filled up his motorcycle.

Still, even filling up the small tank of his bike is more costly than before.

“I try not to think about what it costs,” he said.

Businesses or institutions that operate a large fleet of vehicles, such as Island Transit, are hit hard by gas increases.

While it does cost more to operate the fleet, gas price peaks have a positive impact, as well. The number of people taking Island Transit has jumped by a double-digit increase.

“Our ridership has gone up in the last month by 13.6 percent,” said Martha Rose, executive director of Island Transit.

That’s good news as Island Transit encourages to get people to use their cars less and use the free transportation alternative.

Gas peaks may draw people to the buses at first, but many keep riding once they realize how easy and convenient it is and how much money it saves, she said.

Rose said once gas prices go down, Island Transit’s ridership percentage will drop slightly. Even so, she said they are able to retain many new riders.

The gas price hike is a result of steadily increasing crude oil prices.

Oil prices broke through a record $75 per barrel Friday on continued fears of a supply disruptions in Iran and Nigeria, and reports of spot gas shortages on the U.S. East Coast.

U.S. oil for June delivery set a new trading high of $75.35 before easing to settle up $1.48 at $75.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, also a new closing record.

On Monday, oil prices tumbled back down as OPEC promised to keep pumping near maximum capacity.

Crude for June delivery sank $1.82 to settle at $73.35 a barrel.

The gas situation has also gotten politicians’ attention this week.

Republicans in Congress formally called on President Bush Monday to launch an investigation into possible price gouging by the oil companies, according to national news reports. Democrats, meanwhile, accused Bush of an “absence of leadership” for failing to slow the rapid rise of gasoline prices earlier this months.

In a letter to the president, 15 Democratic members of the U.S. Senate also renewed their call for an “energy summit” to discuss strategies for tackling the rising cost of fuel, and they urged Bush’s support for proposed anti-price gouging legislation.

Democrats — who say the price hike is due in large part to price-gouging by oil producers — are calling for strong consumer protection measures. They also urged aggressive programs to develop biofuels, alternative fuels and energy-saving technologies.

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