GRAND RAPIDS (AP) – The statewide average price of a gallon of self-serve, unleaded gasoline tumbled more than 20 cents during the past week, partly because demand for fuel is waning as the summer driving season winds down, a spokesman for AAA Michigan said yesterday.

Sarah Royce
Gasoline prices have fallen in the past week, though they remain high compared with one year ago. (AP Photo)

“Basically, what we’re seeing is a return to pre-Katrina levels,” said Jim Rink, a spokesman for the Dearborn-based auto club.

Gasoline prices in Michigan fell 20.4 cents per gallon, from a statewide average of $2.91 to $2.706, reported AAA Michigan, which each day surveys 2,800 gas stations statewide. The average price fell 24.8 cents per gallon in greater Detroit, from $2.883 to $2.635 per gallon.

Traverse City had the highest reported prices on yesterday, with an average of $2.842 per gallon, up from $1.899 last year.

Although fuel prices are falling, they still remain high compared to a year ago, when consumers in the Detroit area paid an average of $1.866 per gallon.

Prices remain comparatively high for various reasons, including the development of Tropical Storm Rita, Rink said. The storm posed an immediate threat to Florida but rough projections of its track raised the possibility that the oil-producing and -refining Louisiana coast could be targeted less than a month after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

Still, global demand appears to be decreasing, which should help drive down prices, he said.

The lower prices are welcome but never can go down enough, said Ron Cook Stallworth, a 38-year-old attorney from Detroit. He filled up his Cadillac at a gas station near downtown Detroit during the lunch hour yesterday.

“Had I known how ridiculously high gas was going to be, I wouldn’t have bought the car I did,” he said.

Stallworth said the summer’s high fuel prices led him to make some major changes in his driving habits.

“This summer I drove a little less, put off a trip or two. I’d try to do all my errands at once,” he said.

Despite last week’s price drop, the cost of fuel still seems high to Shyra Livingston, 18, a student at Wayne County Community College. She was at the same Detroit gas station with her mother, Jannise Livingston, 32.

“I’m glad they’re going down, but it still costs me a lot to fill up these cars,” said the mother, who spent more than $60 refueling her Dodge Durango and her daughter’s Honda Accord.

High gas prices put a damper on Shyra Livingston’s summer social plans.

“I didn’t really get to hang out,” she said. “Once I put gas in my car, I didn’t have any money to go out.”

Fuel prices affect not only the wallets of motorists but also the bottom lines of companies.

James Compau, sales and marketing manager of Grand Rapids-based AAA Lawn Care Inc., said it’s difficult for a fuel-dependent business such as his when prices “go through the roof.” The company uses fuel in its mowers, tractors and other lawn machines, and for the vehicles that haul the equipment from job to job.

Lawn care is a highly competitive business, so a lot of thought would go into any price increases, he said.

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