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Consumers feel pain as gas prices rise

The price is $3.34 on Hillsborough Avenue, $3.12 in New Port Richey and $3.25 along Dale Mabry Highway. Tampa Bay area drivers can save a quarter a gallon on gas just by driving a couple miles. But many say they don't bother.

"If I have to drive across town to save a couple cents, it's not worth the extra gas," said Chris Melendez, 27, of New Port Richey as he filled up his silver Dodge Ram for $3.19 a gallon Monday on Dale Mabry. "Unless it's a dollar cheaper, which it's not going to be, I try not to drive around."

After months of stable prices at the pump, gas prices are on the rise. In the bay area, motorists could find an array of prices spanning anywhere from $2.99 a gallon to upwards of $3.40, AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady said.

While this disparity might shock some consumers, Brady said it's not unusual. Different tax rates and types of gas are one explanation.

And prices trend higher near airports, major interchanges, attractions and rural stations with little competition. That's just the market at work. But the range coupled with a 12-cent jump in the weekly average account for the unexpected squeeze on drivers' wallets.

The price per barrel had been hovering around $85. But combined effects from a Norwegian labor strike and European sanctions on Iran saw that number rise to about $88, Brady said.

"It's not too surprising that we saw maybe some knee-jerk reactions with retail prices," Brady said.

That reaction led to the first jump in the weekly average since April 7 when prices peaked at $3.95 a gallon for regular, Brady said.

Even if they could save as much as $5 a stop, many drivers said convenience outweighs savings Sometimes the customer service or the brand is worth paying a few extra cents a gallon, drivers said. And sometimes, they just don't have time to find a better price.

"Just yesterday, I was thinking it was $3," Leschele Labdar, 33, of Spring Hill said, filling her gray Hyundai Sonata for $3.25 a gallon Monday. "I try to go with the lowest price, but today I was really on 'E,' so I stopped."

While Brady expects price stability in the market to return following this initial spike, she thinks the area has probably seen the low for the year. She also warned that price increases usually happen quicker than decreases. So even if Norway settles its strike issues this week, it could take a few days for drivers in Tampa to feel the relief.

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813)225-3111.

Consumers feel pain as gas prices rise 07/09/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 9, 2012 10:33pm]
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