Gas prices may not hurt summer travel

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— Vacationers could be confronted with record gasoline prices this summer, but one travel expert said a 50-cent increase in the price of gas shouldn't deter most people from taking road trips.

Even at $2 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline -- a mark that has already been passed in mountain resorts such as Vail and Aspen -- travelers aren't likely to curtail their plans, said Mary Greer, a spokeswoman for AAA in Denver.

"If gas goes up 50 cents and you're driving a vehicle that gets 20 miles to the gallon, it would cost you $25 more to make a 1,000 mile trip," Greer said.

She said March is the month when AAA members begin coming into the office for help with route planning. Often, she said, AAA staffers help clients plan an itinerary that will route them by cities with the least expensive gas. The choice usually comes down to a southern route or a northern route, Greer said.

The people most likely to balk at taking a highway trip this summer are those on fixed incomes or those piloting 50-foot campers.

Steamboat's largest out-of-state market in summer is Arizona. Colorado's mild climate draws many senior citizens seeking to beat the heat.

The AAA conducted a survey of its members in December 2003 to determine their travel outlook should the U.S. be at war this year.

Of those polled, 23 percent indicated they would travel a lot less in 2003 if their country is at war with Iraq. Conversely, 52 percent said their travel plans would not be affected. Another 17 percent said they would travel somewhat less.

World events could make the Colorado mountain resorts appealing to travelers this summer, Greer said. AAA's survey indicates summer travelers will be looking for vacations that are close to home. National parks will be popular destinations this summer, she predicted.

Cruise lines have been adapting to reluctant international travelers by "home porting" their ships for cruises based out of domestic cities, Greer said. Airlines, sensing a lessening in demand for early summer travel, are already offering significantly discounted fares.

Mark Walker watches the increasing price of gas and knows for certain it will cut into profits at his company. As director of operations for Alpine Taxi, it's difficult for him to pass the cost of fuel on to customers, Walker said. That's because taxi companies are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission and have to go through a formal application process to raise their rates.

Alpine Taxi operates Routt 66, a Phillips 66 gasoline station, and is thus able to fill the tanks of its fleet at wholesale prices.

"We do have a gas station, so we get it for a few pennies less. There's not a big markup on gas," Walker said.

Locals with late-spring travel plans will likely be turning to Alpine Taxi to get them to Denver International Airport when Yampa Valley Regional Airport closes for 40 days during a runway construction project. Alpine Taxi has said it will add as many vehicles as necessary to meet the demand for shuttles to DIA beginning May 5, when the local airport closes.

The price of a roundtrip ticket to DIA on Alpine Taxi is $130, $10 more than two summers ago.

The price of unleaded regular in Steamboat Friday ranged from a low of $1.77 on the west side of town to $1.87 near the ski area.

Greer said Colorado is not one of the 17 states currently experiencing all-time highs for gasoline prices. However, the current state average of $1.686 is a record for March, and is 20 cents higher than the average price in the state in March 2002.

Greer pointed out that a well-maintained vehicle will use less gas. She suggested travelers who own more than one vehicle consider traveling in the smallest car they own.

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