Thanksgiving travelers around New York and New Jersey will face fewer lines at the pump as the region recovers from Hurricane Sandy while paying higher prices than a year ago.
Fuel costs in the area outpace 2011 levels by a higher margin than in the country as a whole even as they’ve dropped faster than the national average in the past week, data from AAA, the nation’s largest motoring organization, show. New York City drivers paid an average $4.051 a gallon as of Nov. 19, 30.6 cents more than a year ago. The national average was $3.412, 5.3 cents above 2012 levels.
Sandy, the largest Atlantic tropical storm on record, landed in New Jersey Oct. 29, disrupting power and shutting refineries, terminals, gas stations and pipelines. AAA estimated Oct. 31 that 35 percent to 40 percent of stations operated in New York City at least part of the day, 30 percent to 35 percent in Long Island and 35 percent to 40 percent for New Jersey.
“I think people will be fine getting fuel for the holiday,” said Kevin Beyer, president of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association. “It’s still not back to 100 percent, but it’s a lot better than what it was.”
As of Nov. 14, 80 percent to 85 percent of gas stations in New York City and Long island were open and 85 percent to 90 percent of the New Jersey stations were pumping gas, according to AAA data.
As of Tuesday all but one regional refinery had reopened, along with most fuel terminals, and regular gasoline was ample in the Long Island area, Beyer said.
“Our expectation is that we’re getting close to 100 percent,” Avery Ash, a spokesman for AAA in Washington, said. “The reports of lines at the pump are very few and far between now.”
Because tankers are waiting as long as five hours to receive premium fuel, Beyer said, his station, Performance Fuels in Smithtown, N.Y., carries only regular gasoline for now.
East Coast gasoline stockpiles sank to a four-year low in the week ended Nov. 9, according to Energy Department data. Phillips 66’s 238,000-barrel-a-day Bayway refinery in Linden, N.J., may start producing fuel next week at the earliest, a person with knowledge of operations said yesterday.
New York City drivers must continue use an odd-even license plate system for gasoline rationing until Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday. New York City and Nassau and Suffolk counties started gasoline rationing on Nov. 9. New Jersey rationed gasoline from Nov. 3 to Nov. 13, using a similar scheme.
“Although there may be some odd-even restrictions still in effect, the overall supply situation has largely normalized,” said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “When I filled up my tank on Saturday, there was one car ahead of me at the pump. That compared to a 20-minute wait at the car wash.”
U.S. travel during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend will rise a fourth straight year, gaining 0.7 percent from 2011, as trips by automobile rise even as airplane trips decline, AAA estimated on Nov. 13. About 43.6 million people will journey 50 miles or more from home this year, up from 43.3 million last year, the nation’s biggest motoring organization said. The increase would be the smallest since 2009.
Automobile transportation will account for 39.1 million of the holiday travelers, up 0.6 percent from 2011. Air passengers will drop 1.9 percent to 3.14 million, according to the report. Robert Darbelnet, chief executive officer at AAA, said in a statement that it’s unclear how Hurricane Sandy will affect travel plans for residents in the mid-Atlantic region.
U.S. gasoline demand fell 0.8 percent in the week ended Nov. 9 to the lowest level since March as Sandy disrupted travel and supplies on the East Coast for a second straight week, MasterCard said Nov. 13 in its SpendingPulse report. The decline followed a 2.4 percent drop the prior week.
Lower demand has come with higher prices. Every day since Aug. 20, the national average price at the pump has been the highest on record for that calendar day, Ash said.
“We’ve been expecting that gap to narrow,” he said. “It closed to less than 0.2 percent on Nov. 11 and now it’s back up. We’ve seen prices holding somewhat stable for the last several days, going down but not at a very rapid rate.”
Ash estimates that the average will be $3.10 to $3.35 by the end of the year and could dip below 2011 levels before the year is out. “As these local distribution issues get resolved, we will see prices in New York and New Jersey drop even faster than the national average.”
The average nationwide cost for regular gasoline Tuesday was $3.426 a gallon, according to AAA. The average has fallen 1.7 cents in a week and 23.9 cents in a month. In New York City, the average was $4.044, 11.1 cents lower than the week before and 3.8 cents lower than a month earlier.