Gas prices have started to creep down in California as disruptions in the supply – and panic among retailers – begins to fade.
The average price for a gallon of self-serve regular in the state was $4.666 Wednesday, down a half-cent from Tuesday’s record high.
But the very modest drops in price have not significantly eased the cost to consumers, many of whom are so loath to fill up their tanks that they’re running out of gas at far greater rates, said Marie Montgomery, spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California.
“We’ve had an increase in our ‘out of gas’ calls, when people run out of gas on the street,” Montgomery said.
The Auto Club received 1400 calls for help from stranded motorists with dry fuel tanks on Thursday and Friday of last week – up 200 from the same days in early October last year.
“People go by a station where they might get gas and they say, ‘That’s too much,’ “ Montgomery said. “They try to make it to the next place that’s cheaper.”
Other drivers appear to be switching to public transportation - for the time being at least.
“These last few days have been standing room only,” said Marc Littman, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), which operates trains and buses throughout Los Angeles County.
Commuter buses operated by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation have also been crammed, said Littman, who takes the city’s 419 line from Granada Hills to his job downtown.
Prices have spiked over the last two weeks in the state, as a number of factors conspired to create a panic among retailers and wholesalers.
A fire in a Chevron refinery in the northern California community of Richmond, which will remain partly closed through the end of the year, helped lead to a shortage of the less-polluting gas the state requires during its smoggy summer months.
A power outage at a refinery in Torrance in the Southern California made matters worse. Both incidents came just as wholesalers in the state were reducing their inventories of this summer-grade gasoline to make way for the winter fuel that is sold at the end of October.
The spiral started to subside on Monday, after California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered air quality regulators to allow the early preparation and sale of the less expensive fuel used in the state during the winter.
Wholesale prices dropped dramatically on Monday, and the reduction is expected to ease prices for consumers in the coming days or weeks.