Crude oil fell back to $97.53 a barrel this morning on the world market -- but Triangle drivers are still paying more for gas each day in the wake of last week's oil price spike above $100, blamed on turmoil in Libya.
The Triangle average for regular reached $3.338 a gallon today, a jump of 20.5 cents in just the past week.
That's just the average, of course, so some of us pay even more. The roving scouts at Raleighgasprices.com report lots of local stations selling regular for $3.40 and higher, with $3.50 the apparent ceiling.
Things were different three years ago in the spring of 2008, the last time we saw pump prices above $3 and rising. Today the price is climbing faster. And with more people out of work, the price of gas is causing more pain this time.
The local average on Feb. 28, 2008 was $3.177 and rising. It would climb past $3.60 by late April on the way to record highs above $4 in late summer 2008. But the North Carolina economy was a lot healthier back then, with a 5.2 percent unemployment rate in February 2008, so more of us had paychecks to help cover the higher cost of driving.
This month we have 9.8 percent unemployment. Many North Carolinians who still have jobs have seen their paychecks shrink in the past year. There's not a lot of extra cash to pay $3 more in the past week for a 15-gallon fill-up.
Triangle Transit, the regional bus service and transit planning agency, says bus ridership rises a lot when gas gets more expensive, and it declines a little when gas prices go down. Rider counts in January were up 14.4 percent for Durham's DATA and 17.7 percent for Triangle Transit compared to the same month a year ago.
And the GoTriangle Regional Transit Information Center (which also serves Raleigh and Chapel Hill bus riders) fielded a record 42,955 calls for bus information in January, more even than back when gas cost $4.
Crude buyers were scared enough about Libya last week to pay more than $100 a barrel. This morning the benchmark price (for West Texas Intermediate) was down a bit to $97.53.