Gasoline will be available widely this Labor Day weekend, but paying for it won't be fun.
Prices are about 30 cents a gallon higher than last year, according to surveys of local stations. The surveys found that gasoline now averages about $1.30 a gallon in the Washington area, compared with $1.00 a gallon last Labor Day.
Motorists will have no trouble finding fuel. The American Automobile Association said that 83 percent of the stations that responded to its survey will be open and selling gasoline Saturday, 60 percent on Sunday and 71 percent on Monday.
Resort areas, which were hurt by last summer's gasoline shortage, predict that business will be up 10-to-15 percent this Labor Day "assuming sunny pleasant weather." Gary Fischer, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, said that Maryland's Eastern Shore is bracing for as many as 235,000 visitors if the weather cooperates.
About 93 percent of those tourists arrive by automobile.
The U.S. Weather Bureau forecasts partly cloudy weather and scattered showers today and Saturday. But conditions Sunday and Monday should be fair and warm, with temperatures in the upper 80s or low 90s. No rain is expected for the close of the weekend.
The Council of Governments, however, issued a health advisory through 4 p.m. today and asked motorists to restrict their auto travel. The council said the Air Quality Index had reached 120, in the unhealthy range -- a rare occurance this summer. The elderly and those with respiratory ailments were advised to stay indoors until conditions improve.
The council said that environmental pollutants and this week's hot, sunny weather had pushed up the index.
The request to drive less came as stations were preparing to pump an unusually large supply of high-priced gasoline.
"Last summer it was famine and this summer it is feast," said Victor Rasheed, executive director of the Greater Washington Maryland Service Station Association. "Next summer it will probably be famine again."
The increased price of gasoline has encouraged conservation and the result is an abundant supply of fuel.
Labor Day travelers who pump their own gasoline at self-service stations will be able to save about 5 cents a gallon on regular and between 1 and 3 cents a gallon on other grades.
Where the motorist buys gasoline also can make a difference in pump prices, because of local taxes and competition.
A Washington Post survey of 37 stations showed that Maryland had the lowest average price for regular, full-service gasoline -- 125.7 cents a gallon -- while the District of Columbia had the highest -- 133.8 cents a gallon. The Virginia average was 130.1 cents a gallon.
Actual prices vary widely, however, even within the same jurisdiction. J. T. McQueeney, owner of an Exxon station at 1946 New York Ave. NE, in D.C., sells self-service gasoline at prices that are below the Maryland average. His regular grade gasoline is 122.9 cents a gallon, for example.
Despite his comparatively low price, McQueeney said he is losing money and customers to Maryland stations "because every time you turn on the radio they are talking about the 9 cent tax in the District on gasoline, so people are buying in Maryland."
In fact, McQueeney said his prices are no higher than his Maryland competitors because "they are taking a 15- to 16-cent margin and I'm getting only a 5-cent markup."