Randy Metcalf/The Explorer "I don't drive much, so it doesn't affect me," Robert Moriarty says of rising gas prices in the region. "If the price goes up to $10 a gallon, though, it will."

If this keeps up, he might buy a hybrid.

Robert Moriarty on Monday afternoon did what many hate to do these days — filled up his car.

Faced with ever-rising fuel prices, the very act of pumping gas seems to elicit physical reactions in many drivers. Eyebrows raise, heads shake, and, perhaps, even a muffled curse word escapes their lips.

Nationwide, fuel prices continue to soar, averaging $3.80 a gallon for regular, unleaded gasoline. In Arizona, the price per gallon is nearly 20 cents cheaper, according to AAA Arizona.

But in Tucson, drivers pay less for gas than they would anywhere else in the country, according to AAA.

As of last Wednesday, May 14 (the most recent figure), prices in town averaged $3.457 a gallon. In Pima County, drivers paid about $3.465 a gallon, slightly more than in Tucson, but still less than what folks are paying throughout the state and across the nation.

But, when it comes to economics, price is relative.

“I don’t drive much, so it doesn’t affect me,” Moriarty said this week as he pumped gas at the Chevron station at Magee and Oracle roads. “If the price goes up to $10 a gallon, though, it will.”

If that were to happen, Moriarty would seriously consider getting that hybrid.

That’s all he could do, really, according to AAA spokeswoman Linda Gorman.

Short of the country adopting overnight a sweeping change to its energy policy that somehow reduces fuel prices, AAA urges drivers to maximize their vehicles’ fuel efficiency in any way they can, Gorman said this week.

That could mean altering driving routes or putting travel plans on hold until prices drop, which is what 40 percent of drivers taking a recent AAA online poll say they’ll do.

Or, people can simply drive less. The latter, according to Gorman, helps explain why fuel prices in Pima County and Tucson remain the lowest in the nation.

For the first time in five years, she said, demand for gasoline has dipped in Southern California, Gorman said.

That region, home to 24 million people, often drives demand for fuel. As Southern California curbs its appetite for the stuff, however, “refiners are scaling back production and are moving excess product to Arizona,” according to Gorman.

The unexpected surplus, coupled with Arizona gas stations’ attempts to get rid of winter fuel blends, creates cheaper prices. Again, cheaper is a relative term.

Salpointe graduate Allie Leiva on Monday seemed to shrug off the higher prices she’s been paying at the pump.

“I’m not really affected by the gas prices,” Leiva said as she filled up at the Chevron at Oracle and Magee. “I get pretty good gas mileage and only use my car for going to school and back.”

Her mother sometimes goes out of her way to find cheaper gas, at places like Costco, for instance.

Analysts used to think that once the price of gas hit $3 a gallon, drivers would significantly alter their behavior. Not so, according to Gorman.

The tipping point may not even come at $4 a gallon, which people already pay in some places, California and Illinois included.

“What people say they’re going to do and what they actually do are two different things,” Gorman said.

• Staff writer Randy Metcalf contributed to this report.


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