Gas Prices Dented by a Drop in Summer Traffic

Gas prices usually peak in the summer when millions of Americans hit the road for weekend getaways.  This year, however, a surge in unemployment and a drop in summer traffic have kept prices at the pump in check.

Gasoline prices are expected to average $2.49 a gallon nationwide from April to September, according to a report published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).  That's down from $3.81 a gallon last summer.

But, falling prices at the pump won't necessarily coax more drivers onto the road.  The International Energy Agency  (IEA) predicted that global oil demand would contract by 2.9% this year.

"I don't know necessarily if prices go down 20 cents that people will say 'Let's change our vacation plans and go,'" Brian Milne, a refined fuels editor for DTN, told the Wall Street Journal.

Oil prices rose for much of the first half of the year, as some investors expected demand from vacationers to pick up in the summer driving season. However, this has not been the case.  Memorial Day and the Fourth of July weekends - traditionally major driving holidays - both passed without a spike in gasoline consumption.

"It looks like gasoline prices have peaked for the summer," Tancred Lidderdale, an economist at the IEA told Bloomberg.  "We have ample gasoline supplies and it looks like that will be the case all summer."

In fact, traffic on highways is down overall, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. This marks the first decline in traffic in 25 years.

"June is the month when gasoline demand should pick up in the U.S. and it's a slightly worrying sign that we don't see that," the IEA's David Fyfe told the Wall Street Journal. "If U.S. gasoline demand won't increase in July and August, we might revise downward our oil demand forecast for 2009."

But, the declines in both gas prices and traffic are most likely temporary.  As soon as the economy begins to rebound, analysts predict demand for gasoline to increase, driving prices back up. 

The EIA is forecasting increased demand for oil and gasoline in 2010, predicting the price at the pump to average $2.56 a gallon next year, according to the Associated Press.

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