Drivers still aren’t rushing to fill their tanks

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Data released Monday by the Federal Highway Administration show the number of miles driven on U.S. roads rose in March compared with February, but still was below March 2009, in the depths of the recession.

There is no sign of anything more than a modest increase in demand for gasoline so far this year. Last week’s MasterCard SpendingPulse report showed consumption of gasoline for the first two weeks of May running about 1.3 percent ahead of last year. For the year, consumption has risen about 1 percent.

Demand is 4 percent below 2007 levels, according to the MasterCard data, which tallies total gas sales paid by credit card, checks and cash.

Drivers are logging about the same number of miles as they did in 2005. Analysts say the stubbornly high unemployment rate, muted consumer confidence and, until recently, rising gasoline prices have held back driving and gasoline demand.

“The market is jittery and fundamentally weak and that has translated to discretionary gasoline use,” said oil analyst and trader Stephen Schork. “It is a tenuous situation out there.”

Retail gasoline prices fell again Monday as this month’s big drop in oil prices continues to work its way to the pump.

The national average pump price fell 0.8 cents to $2.793 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That’s down nearly 14 cents from the May 6 price of $2.93. Prices have dropped below $2.50 per gallon in some areas.

Gas prices are 37.5 cents higher than a year ago, but the gap is narrowing quickly.

Associated Press