Americans are feeling the pain at the pump. In Hawaii the sting just got a little worse.
The state reached the dubious milestone yesterday of being the first in recent years where the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline has reached $4, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Report.
The Aloha State’s average of $4 per gallon is the highest in the nation, beating California’s average of $3.96. Alaska has the third highest average price at $3.90.
"Of course I’m not happy about it at all, but no one is," said Irma Lai, who was filling up her small SUV at a Big Island gas station that was charging $4.22 a gallon. "What the hell can I do? I have to drive. I can’t walk everywhere. I use a cane."
Lai isn’t the only one upset, and some are beginning to worry that consumers’ increased spending on gasoline won’t leave enough for other spending to fuel the nation’s economic recovery.
Price at the Pump
"$4 is definitely a psychological mark," said Marie Montgomery, spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California, which covers Hawaii.
She said many stations have avoided changing their price signs, hanging on to the threes as long as possible.
"I’m seeing in California, a lot of gas stations are almost like they’re afraid to put that 4 on there," Montgomery said. "Nobody wants to be the first."
Some cities have already hit a $4 average, including San Francisco, but Hawaii is the first state to reach the mark since 2008. The area tracked by AAA in Hawaii with the highest average was the Wailuku area of Maui, where the average yesterday was $4.24.
Jordan Kaneshiro, who pumps gas at Shige’s Service Station in the rural Hawi area of the Big Island, said customers are not happy about the high prices.
"I pumped $100 today for one guy," Kaneshiro said. "The guy wanted a discount."
The national average for regular unleaded was $3.56 a gallon, up a nickel from a week ago and 43 cents higher than a month ago. Wyoming had the cheapest gas in the nation, averaging $3.27.
Oil prices have been surging in recent weeks because of the unrest in Libya that has forced that country to shut down its oil fields, which had been producing about 1.6 million barrels of crude per day. The squeeze on world supplies and concern that uprisings could spread across the Middle East helped push oil prices about 24 percent higher in the past few weeks.
Gasoline pump prices in the U.S. followed oil sharply higher and are still the most expensive ever for this time of year.
According to AAA, $4 gas prices have not been seen since 2008, when oil prices skyrocketed well above $100 a barrel. Hawaii hit $4 for the first time on May 23, 2008, and stayed above that mark until Oct. 12, 2008. During that summer, the 50th state hit its high of $4.50.
Alaska holds the record for an average high of $4.69 reached July 24, 2008, according to the auto club.
Montgomery said in 2008, gas prices "barely passed for a breath and just kept on going," after breaking the $4 mark. However, this time, the increase has been more steady, with prices going up about a penny a day.
She said $4 gas could affect demand.
According to a recent AAA poll in several states, many members reported that $4 is the price point where they would drastically reduce their driving.