Spring gas pain is early this year on the Central Coast

San Luis Obispo County motorists are paying more at the pump as gas prices head upward.

As of Thursday, county motorists were paying an average of $3.97 per gallon to fill up their tanks with regular unleaded, according to the AAA daily fuel survey, and some stations are now charging more than $4 per gallon. A year ago, the average price was $3.54.

The national average, while also up, remains sharply below the Central Coast’s: U.S. motorists are shelling out $3.52 for regular, up 39 cents from one year ago.

Gas prices have jumped over $4 before, but prices have never been this high this early in the year.

“It’s going to get higher because crude prices are higher. But this is not the new normal,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. “It’s an episode. We’ve seen this during most springs for the last 12 years. There’s always a spring rally. We should be used to it by now.” Kloza predicts prices will peak in spring between $3.75 and $4.25 a gallon. “San Luis Obispo County will be on the high end of that range and will also make it there faster,” Kloza added.

Experts believe there are two reasons motorists everywhere are “pretty much guaranteed” to see gas prices go up: Rising crude oil prices based on worldwide demand, and the switch to more expensive summer-blend gasoline.

On the Central Coast, where gas prices are routinely higher than in the rest of the nation, analysts predict paying $4 or more for a gallon of regular gasoline will be “pretty commonplace.”

“I’m a college student, and it can be pretty tough. Gas is one of my biggest expenses,” said Cal Poly student Xavier Villa as he filled his vehicle up with regular gasoline at the Shell Station off Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo.

Gas at that station was $4.13 for a gallon of regular fuel.

Villa watched the dollars tick by Thursday as he filled up his tank.

“It’s my No. 1 expense, right behind food,” he added.

There are three reasons gas is more expensive on the Central Coast, and all have to do with location:

San Luis Obispo County is relatively isolated, and gasoline has to be hauled here.

The Central Coast is also a tourist destination. So, station owners are able to charge whatever the market allows.

Station owners must cover higher rental costs.

There is some good news for motorists: Analysts don’t believe gas prices will hit the $5 mark in San Luis Obispo County anytime soon.

“It’s like a fever. It will come around and pass,” Kloza said.