ST. LOUIS • Drivers took double takes at the signs outside some St. Louis area gas stations Wednesday as gasoline dipped below $3 a gallon, a rare sight in the past 10 months.
A gallon of regular gasoline sold for $2.989 a gallon at some stations this week, far below the national average and among the lowest prices in the past year.
At least one station — the Phillips 66 at 2724 Watson Road in the Clifton Heights neighborhood — was priced below $2.90 a gallon, if a car wash also was purchased.
“I love this,” said St. Louis County & Yellow Cab Co. taxi driver James Myers after he paid $2.999 a gallon for gas at a QuikTrip in south St. Louis. “We pay for our own gas, so I’m able to make more money.”
The lower prices are welcome to motorists who have become used to paying eye-popping prices at the pump. As recently as Sept. 15, the average price of a gallon of unleaded gas in St. Louis was $3.77. And, in mid-March, prices neared $4 a gallon locally as crude oil price hikes sent gas prices soaring nationwide.
All 12 pumps at the QuikTrip at 2851 Gravois Avenue in south St. Louis were occupied by drivers pumping gas late Wednesday morning, with some cars waiting in queue.
Armando Montez lives in Collinsville, but the low gas prices on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River prompted him to not only fill up his Ford F-150 tank while he was in St. Louis for work, but also fill two small, red portable gas containers.
“They’re for my wife’s car,” he said.
The average price for regular gasoline on the Missouri side of the St. Louis region was $3.056 a gallon on Wednesday, the lowest average price so far this year, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. It’s down from $3.546 at the end of September.
The last time the average price for a gallon of gas fell below $3 on the Missouri side of the St. Louis region was Dec. 26, 2011.
For the Metro East, where there are higher gasoline taxes, regular was $3.301 a gallon, down from $3.751 a month ago.
Mike Right, vice president of public affairs for AAA Missouri, said he expected the average price of gas locally to remain low and dip below $3 in the coming weeks as Midwest supplies remain strong and demand lowers.
“We haven’t been below $3 this year, and I think we’ll be there,” Right said.
Of course, how long the relief lasts is hard to predict given the volatility in the Middle East, particularly with the nuclear crisis in Iran, and the uncertainty about the strength of the global economy.
Still, gasoline prices are tumbling nationally. The U.S. average is $3.52 a gallon, down from $3.78 a month ago. A year ago, the U.S. average was $3.44 a gallon.
There are several reasons for the recent dip in prices at the pump, said Bill O’Grady, chief market strategist at Confluence Investment Management and a longtime energy market analyst.
Among them: less perceived risk among oil traders that a Middle East conflict could interrupt oil shipments from the region, he said. Also, the global economy remains sluggish.
Domestically, he said, gasoline demand has dropped as it normally does in the fall, after summer driving season ends. And demand for heating oil in the northeast has yet to pick up.
“There’s just a natural drift lower in prices” this time of year, O’Grady said.
Finding low gasoline prices comes with a little work, said Stephanie Wisniewski, who stopped to refuel after she saw the price fall below $3 a gallon. She keeps a close eye on prices, she said, and stops when she finds the lowest.
Shopping around can mean several dollars in savings. A gallon of regular gas at the Mobil Crown Mart at North Jefferson Avenue and Delmar Boulevard was $3.19 Wednesday, and many stations throughout the Missouri side still remained above $3 a gallon.
Some stations’ prices also vary depending on neighboring stations’ prices. A Circle K Shell station near Gravois and Elgin was priced at $2.989 a gallon for regular unleaded gas at midday Wednesday, matching the QuikTrip’s $2.989 price next door. By 6 p.m., the price at both had dropped to $2.969 a gallon.
Fredi Betancourt stopped to fill up an F-150 pickup at the Clifton Heights Phillips 66 before heading to his home in Fairmont City in Illinois. Filling up the pickup, which has dual tanks, typically costs about $150. When prices are even a few cents lower, the savings are meaningful, he said.
“It’s good for my budget,” Betancourt said. “I may be only saving a couple dollars, but it’s worth it.”
Jeffrey Tomich of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this story.