Motorists grumble about gas prices, but are paying up

More than half of motorists surveyed by AAA say they will alter driving habits, a drop from the 66 percent in 2013

ALBANY — If you feel that the pain at the gas pump has gotten too high, the majority of U.S. drivers agree with you, according to the results of a survey released Thursday by AAA Auto Club Group.

But while motorists are grumbling about the prices, they appear to have accepted that $3 a gallon is the new normal and fewer are planning to take steps to compensate, AAA officials say.

Prices have gone up since the survey was conducted in early March. When the survey was conducted, the national average cost of a gallon of retail regular-grade gas was $3.49, already touching the point at which nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said the cost was too high. On Thursday, AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report pegged the national average at $3.566.

Still, the average was 7.4 cents cheaper than April 3, 2013.

“People do not seem happy at the price they see at the pump,” AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said. “Although they remain frustrated, our findings show that many drivers grudgingly accept that paying more than $3 per gallon for gasoline is the new normal.”

The survey for AAA found that 40 percent of respondents felt $3 per gallon was too high, with half saying $3.30 was too high. More than nine out of every 10 people surveyed — 91 percent — said $4 gas would be too high.

“Gas prices in some states are currently in line with what motorists were paying at the pump this time last year,” Jenkins said. “While they could continue trending upward for the next couple of weeks, prices are expected to remain well below their peak price in recent years.”

Georgia is faring better than the national average, but is closing in on its 2013 numbers. On Thursday, state motorists were paying an average of $3.47 a gallon, though that figure had risen 8.5 cents higher than the previous Thursday and was less than 3 cents (2.8 cents) below the average for the same date in 2013. In the past month, Georgia’s average has jumped 18 cents.

Metro Albany, where prices at many stations had inched into the $3.559 area by early afternoon Thursday, is seeing similar effects. The Thursday morning average, according to the Fuel Gauge Report, was $3.481, an increase of 13.6 cents week to week. On March 3, the Albany average was $3.247 — 23.4 cents per gallon lower.

And Albany exceeded last year’s average for the date, which was $3.409, or 7.2 cents cheaper.

The only Georgia metro area on Thursday with an average cost below the $3.40 mark was Augusta, which barely slipped under at $3.391. The most expensive gas was in Valdosta, where motorists were paying an average $3.493. Among the eight Georgia metro areas that AAA surveys, Albany ranked as the third most expensive, right behind Atlanta’s $3.483.

Still, fewer motorists than last year told AAA surveyors that they were altering their driving habits to compensate for the spring rise. Two-thirds of surveyed motorists in 2013 (66 percent) said they were making spending adjustments, compared to just over half (53 percent) this year.

For those who are looking to economize, the most popular method is to combine errands or trips (85 percent), followed closely by cutting down on driving (84 percent). Just more than two-thirds (68 percent) said they would cut back on shopping or dining out, while a little over half (52 percent) planned to delay major purchases.

Other economic moves included driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle, 49 percent; redirecting money earmarked for savings, 42 percent; working closer to home, 41 percent; carpooling, 30 percent; using public transportation more regularly, 30 percent, and other methods, 15 percent.

Younger adults (18-34) were more likely than older adults to work closer to home (60 percent compared to 34 percent), carpool (49 percent vs. 23 percent) and use public transportation more regularly (32 percent vs. 11 percent).

Earlier this year, AAA officials predicted the U.S. average could go as high as $3.75 by the heavy driving season that kicks off on Memorial Day weekend and goes through Labor Day weekend. On Thursday, organization officials said it may top out before it hits $3.65, which would be 15 cents cheaper than last year and 30 cents better than 2012.