TAMPA, Fla. -- If you're seeing more cars on the road in the next few weeks, it's not just folks enjoying their summer vacation. Floridians are breathing a sigh of relief as retail gas prices continue to fall to numbers not seen in years.
A week ago, the state average was $3.40; a month ago, the average price per gallon in Florida was $3.62. The 12-month average for Florida is around 20 cents lower than the national average for regular gasoline.
As of June 13, New Port Richey stations were selling regular grade gasoline for as low as $3.12 a gallon. Stations throughout Central Florida were selling gas as low as $3.15 a gallon by the end of last week, with diesel around $3.44 in most of Brooksville and along the Interstate-75 corridor, according to data from MotorTrend.com.
AAA spokeswoman Jessica Brady from the Auto Club Group notes that prices are expected to drop again this week. While they see the reprieve stimulating families to travel more, they're aware that tight budgets will necessitate frugality.
The average cost of gasoline continues to drop throughout much of the southeast, and in Florida, prices per gallon average $3.35, five cents from the previous week, according to the latest Fuel Gage Report from the American Automobile Association.
Debbie Piascik, owner and CEO of Dream Limo of Tampa, is both relieved and tentatively optimistic about the good news at the pump. Even with reports that the economy is improving, Piascik notes that it's the small business owners and, even more specifically, those who specialize in luxury services, who are most qualified to discuss whether or not things have truly improved.
"If the economy was really recovering, we'd be the ones to see it," she notes.
Hillsborough County allows businesses like hers to add a fuel surcharge to offset the expense, which has saved her business when the cost of gas combined with a bad economy might have otherwise buried her limousine business, which has operated in Tampa for nine years. An 8 percent surcharge is as low as she can drop that charge and still keep her fleet of nine vehicles running.
"Last month, we had a $3,500 fuel bill… that's for just one month," says Piascik. They haven't let anyone go, but she hasn't been able to hire new drivers, either. "We'd have to make it closer to 12 percent to cover the job when gas is really high," she says, but somehow they make it all work.
This, combined with the anticipated boost in business in August when the Republican National Convention comes to town, will no doubt raise her spirits even more.
It's not only small business owners who benefit from lower gas prices. Floridians with plans to hit the road during summer vacation will find that less money's being siphoned from their wallets when their car needs a refill.
The 2012 AAA Consumer Pulse Survey revealed that, as of April, 65 percent of Floridians intended to take vacations this summer of 4 or more days; of those, nearly half planned to drive. When asked if they were interested in taking a summer trip 50 miles or more away from home requiring accommodations, 78 percent of those surveyed replied in the affirmative.
The drop in gas prices means good news all around for consumers, small business owners, and a struggling state economy. Whether the trend continues throughout the summer months will determine just how many miles Florida drivers clock as a result.