CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Prices reached $4 a gallon yesterday at the Shell station on McCully and South Beretania streets.
$4 and rising
Motorists readjust their driving habits
While the statewide average for regular gasoline topped $4 a gallon yesterday for the first time, that probably seems cheap to drivers on Maui, where prices soared past the threshold more than a month ago.
"I don't know, I might just buy a horse."
Nancy Brown / Kilauea resident, on the cost of gas
Gas prices are at record highs on all islands, reflecting nationwide trends fueled by the ever-increasing price of crude oil.
The Valley Isle -- where transportation, storage and delivery issues have traditionally pushed prices higher there than on other islands -- has been hit particularly hard. The price for a gallon of regular, self-serve, climbed to $4.326 yesterday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report.
Wailuku was the first region of the country tracked by the auto club's fuel report to top the $4 mark, back on April 10.
Residents have adjusted.
A look at price trends for regular, self-serve unleaded in Honolulu and across the state. All prices reached record highs yesterday.
Source: AAA Fuel Gauge Report
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High prices have prompted Maui resident Michael Sena to reduce his trips to eat out from five times a week to just once or twice.
"I only drive when necessary," Sena said.
At Uptown Chevron in Wailuku, where regular gasoline was selling for $4.37 a gallon Thursday, Kristian Nakamura said he has cut his driving in half and reduced his recreational fishing and surfing trips.
"I try to be certain there's surf," he said.
Nakamura said he is also thinking of changing from a six-cylinder to a four-cylinder vehicle.
Russann Tomlinson said her boyfriend is fixing his motorcycle, and she is looking at other means to get around Lahaina, where she lives.
"I'm seriously thinking of fixing my bike," she said.
Prices on Kauai are not tracked by AAA, but have been above the $4 mark in some areas for a few weeks. Costs ranged this week from $4.02 to $4.15, according to KauaiWorld.com.
On the island's North Shore, some car owners say they have been postponing errands in Kapaa and Lihue to make one big excursion to town.
"We've been consolidating trips," said Nicky Brown, of Kilauea. "We've been putting things off."
Brown even sold her business, North Shore Taxi, last year because of escalating gas prices. While metered fares have not risen in two years, the price of gas has gone up almost $2 a gallon.
"The bottom line was just disappearing," Brown added. "We were just battling with gas."
As for her next vehicle, she would like to see the Toyota minivan hybrid come to the States from Japan.
"I don't know, I might just buy a horse," Brown said.
The other two Hawaii markets tracked by AAA, Honolulu and Hilo, also reached record highs yesterday.
Honolulu's average of $3.904 was 2 cents higher than the previous day, while Hilo prices surged 8 cents to top the $4 mark for the first time at $4.055.
If cap existed, prices would still be rising
With gas prices now hitting the once-thought-unreachable high of $4 a gallon, one might ask whether the state's now-defunct wholesale gasoline price caps might have had any effect.
The short answer is, It is impossible to say for sure.
When the caps were suspended in 2005, the law required the Public Utilities Commission to develop a suitable formula for calculating hypothetical prices caps, with the idea that if the public thought prices were artificially high, pressure could be brought on the Governor's Office to reinstate the caps.
The PUC, citing a lack of funds from the Legislature, never determined a new formula or calculated hypothetical caps.
It has complied with another part of the 2005 law, which requires it to collect data from the local oil industry participants and publish weekly reports, although some have criticized the reports as misleading and incomplete.
Gov. Linda Lingle, who has opposed the price caps as anti-business, said recently that her office has not received any requests or suggestions to reinstate the controls.
"I think people are starting to recognize now -- unlike when the gas cap was first discussed -- that this is a worldwide issue, a worldwide problem," she said.
Gas caps, which began in August 2005 and were repealed nine months later, were criticized for tying Hawaii's wholesale prices to an average of prices in three mainland markets: the Gulf of Mexico, New York and Los Angeles. Prices soared in those markets, and in turn Hawaii's, following the disruption to the nation's oil supply caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Before the caps were suspended, Sen. Ron Menor -- the Senate consumer protection chairman at the time and author of the gas cap law -- proposed a hypothetical gas cap formula that included Singapore and made other adjustments to address concerns raised about dealer margins.
Under that formula, the statewide average for gasoline would be about $4.001 a gallon, according to Star-Bulletin research.
On the Big Island, gas in West Hawaii has cost more than $4 per gallon since mid-April. Four-dollar gas came to Hilo this week, with a typical price being $4.07.
"I am constantly staring at the price as it goes up," said Christine Rivera as she filled up at a Hilo gas station. But she has children she has to drive around, so there is not much she can do to cut back.
One change is sizing up the length of the line of cars at the drive-though window of fast-food places. If the line was long before, she would not care about the extra wait with the engine idling. Now she parks and walks inside, she said.
Royden Wong, also getting gas yesterday, considers himself lucky to have sold his diesel truck just before the price of diesel went sky high, he said.
An auto repair shop owner, Wong bought a small pickup for business use, but for personal use he drives an even more economical Honda Civic, he said.
Prices are unlikely to come down any time soon as crude oil continues to climb into new record territory almost daily, settling yesterday at $132.19 a barrel compared with $99.62 a barrel at the start of the year and $58.32 at the start of 2007.
Meanwhile, the nationwide average for regular also set a record of $3.875 just as motorists mark the traditional start of the summer driving season this Memorial Day weekend. Prices are up nearly 20 percent, or 65 cents a gallon, over the past year.
Hawaii's average was sixth highest in the country behind Alaska ($4.181), Connecticut ($4.125), Illinois ($4.060), New York ($4.054) and California ($4.046).
State Rep. Kyle Yamashita, who owns three gas stations on Maui, says he is not sure what to expect next.
"It's never been like this before," said Yamashita (D, Pukalani-Ulupalakua).
He noted that even though past crude oil price spikes eventually came down, market conditions have never been as they are now with such large demand for oil coming from all corners of the world, particularly Asia.
"Looking at it from a retailer's point of view, there's no precedent for this," he added. "There's no way to judge what's going to happen."
Star-Bulletin reporters Tom Finnegan, Gary T. Kubota and Rod Thompson contributed to this report.