TRAVERSE CITY — Gas prices are important to Cindy Yockert.
She’s a single mom who works as a caregiver in northern Michigan, an occupation that requires her to drive lots of miles to and from work.
“It helps me tremendously when prices go down,” Yockert said as she pumped $3.23 per-gallon gas at the Mobil station on 14th Street in Traverse City on Monday. “It helps me take care of my boys.”
College student Andrew Higham, of Interlochen, agrees. Higham makes long commutes to two jobs in Traverse City and Thompsonville.
“It is a big deal,” Higham said. “I’m trying to pay off my debt. When they go down, it’s a lot easier on my pocketbook. I can afford to do a lot more things.”
Yockert, Higham and virtually every other driver in Michigan are thankful for a significant drop in gas prices in recent weeks. The price for regular unleaded reached $4.29 a gallon in Traverse City on June 5. The average had dropped by a buck by Monday, with the Traverse City area averaging just $3.29 a gallon.
“Its been phenomenal,” said Gregg Laskoski, a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com. “Wholesale prices in the region are down as well.”
The relief at the pump is the result of increased production at Midwest refineries, said Nancy Cain of Triple AAA Michigan.
“The timing is great,” Cain said, adding 1.4 million Michiganders are expected to travel on vacation 50 miles or more this July 4th holiday.
Laskoski said a grocery store in Lambertville was selling gas as low as $2.99 a gallon Monday. He, too, attributed the price drop to a jump in refinery production, noting Midwest refineries were operating at roughly 78 percent capacity in late May. That figure is now up to almost 88 percent.
Fluctuations in gas prices don’t usually translate into radical changes in family vacation plans, said Mike Norton of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. But lower gas prices mean travelers are more likely to spend more money while on vacation because they’re confronted with less of a financial pinch.
“The truth is we are always glad to see gas prices go down ... but it seems to have very little impact on the decision to take a vacation,” Norton said.