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State, local gas prices among highest in U.S.

On Monday morning, gas prices in Washington state were listed as the highest in the Lower 48 — just a few cents lower than what drivers pay in Alaska and Hawaii.

Washington state prices reported by AAA on Monday were $4.275 per gallon. The average for the rest of the nation was $3.58 per gallon. Gas prices in Mercer Island and Bellevue on Monday were about $4.48 per gallon.

With BP’s Cherry Point refinery just ramping up production again after a fire in February, gas prices should begin to fall, said Jennifer Cook, of AAA in Bellevue. Gas prices in the state actually fell slightly over the weekend, she added. Considering that BP’s Cherry Point refinery supplies nearly one-third of the gas used in Washington state, it is no surprise that it affects gas prices here, Cook said.

For Islanders wondering why gas prices in Mercer Island are higher from time to time than other nearby cities, Cook explained that gas suppliers use what they term as “zone pricing,” setting prices differently for certain areas.

Shahin Eighani, who works at the Shell station at 78th Avenue S.E. and S.E. 29th Street said customers do comment on the higher prices, but seem resigned to paying more.

“This morning I had a customer say the gas price is too high, but no one cares because they need to drive their cars. What can we do?” Eighani said.

Cook noted that despite the higher prices, gas station owners or operators make the least amount of any part of the entire process — from drilling to refining to distribution. She said that the suppliers do not share information on those zones — where they are and how the differences in price are established.

The price of fueling buses with both diesel and unleaded fuels has gone up dramatically.

Todd Kelsay, Director of Transportation for the Mercer Island School District estimates that what he pays for fuel has gone up more than 100 percent over a year ago.

The increase has occurred despite the fact that the district obtains its fuel through a state-negotiated contract. Kelsay said he pays the lowest possible price for fuel.

The district uses 20,000 gallons of diesel each year, Kelsay said. “Unlike in the past, diesel is now more expensive than unleaded, going for around $4 a gallon.

The district also spends $15,000 for unleaded fuel on some of the smaller buses.

The school district has a relatively new fleet. But that does not necessarily mean that the buses are more efficient, Kelsay explained. “Many times, safety features and other improvements add weight to the vehicles,” he said.

Diesel buses average about 8 to 9 miles to the gallon.

Kelsay said that student  transportation here is in good shape.

“Due to the generosity of Island voters, we have been able to upgrade our fleet. And our buses are full. We are better off than most districts,” he said.

“One positive thing that may come out of these high prices is that many who drive their students to school may decide to have them ride the bus instead,” he added.

The state is taking a greater interest in fuel prices as well.

Gov. Chris Gregoire announced on May 25 that the state Department of Commerce was to assume the lead responsibility for monitoring and reporting on gasoline and petroleum product prices and supplies. The agency, which submitted its first report to the governor last Thursday, is also directed to coordinate with similar agencies in California and Oregon.

AAA has several tools on its website to track fuel prices at individual locations. Go to www.aaawa.com.

 

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