Gas prices rise as spring break nears


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Road-tripping for spring break may not be so cost-effective for University of Iowa students this year.

Gas prices have risen to more than $3.50 per gallon at some Iowa gas stations as political turmoil continues in countries such as Libya and Tunisia.

UI sophomore Jimmy Novak will travel to Daytona Beach, Fla. with 11 other friends in three cars after forgoing plane tickets because of last-minute plans. Novak estimates the group will spend roughly $400 per car on gas.

“It kind of sucks, but I want to go on this trip badly,” the 20-year-old said. “I’ll have to be careful with my money, and most of that is going toward gas, so I can just be there.”

On Monday, Iowa State Gas Prices reported an 11.8-cent increase per gallon in retail gasoline prices over the past week — which keeps it below the national average of 12.6 cents per gallon.

But experts said it’s still unusual for Iowa, which generally doesn’t see sharp spikes and tends to have lower gas prices this time of year.

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Whether the increases will stop is difficult to say. Experts said it’s unlikely consumers will see any dramatic drops in the foreseeable future, and $3 per gallon will be the “new norm” for 2011.

“It’s virtually impossible to determine if it’s going to go up,” said Gail Weinholzer, a director of public affairs at AAA Minnesota/Iowa.

Black and White Cab company owner and driver Siham Elneil, 50, who sometimes stops at the pump more than twice a day, said the prices have taken their toll. The cost of gas cuts into drivers’ income, she said, but some customers have begun tipping a little more in sympathy.

Elneil said she also hesitates taking customers on longer routes because of the cost.

“This is really affecting what we bring home every day,” she said.

Weinholzer said Iowa gas prices currently average a $3.48 per gallon for regular. The state typically hovers around the national average, now at $3.51, she said.

Though political unrest in the Middle East over the past few months is a factor in increased gas prices, numerous UI professors said the direct effects aren’t apparent — at least not yet.

“You usually think price is affected by current supply, but supply from the Middle East hasn’t changed,” said UI political-science Professor Vicki Hesli. “But people expect the supply to change in the future, and that’s pushing up the price.”

Whether the increase will continue depends on whether unrest spreads to other countries in the region, especially large oil-producing countries.

Hesli said some fear if states such as Egypt, which has less oil than many of its neighbors, can be affected by the political unrest, the movement could spread to larger dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, which is the world’s largest oil producers.

The present effects seen at local Iowa City gas stations are the result of a ripple effect, said UI urban and regional planning Professor John Fuller.

“The special thing about oil is we all buy gasoline — well, most of us do,” said Fuller, who is also on the economics faculty. “Oil prices are embedded in just about everything.”

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