Gas prices this Labor Day weekend are the lowest they’ve been in 16 years, but the $64,000, er, $2.19 question is: Will Americans travel over the four-day holiday weekend?
The national average for the long holiday weekend this year will be down about 37¢ from 2019, predicts GasBuddy.com. That $2.19 is the lowest price per gallon since $1.82 in 2004.
Decreased demand for gasoline is why prices are so low, explains the website’s head of petroleum analysis, Patrick DeHaan. People aren’t commuting, jets aren’t flying, and school buses aren’t driving around.
He expects the lower demand to last for at least the next eight months.
“It’s entirely fueled by COVID-19 keeping people at home and away from filling their tanks,” DeHaan says. “The economy may be opening back up, but we’re having lifestyle changes at this point that were never expected . . . Overall, it’s more tricky to hit the road and, say, grab a motel. There are restrictions on what you can do. That’s keeping some Americans from [traveling].”
A murky travel forecast
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the question remains how many people will hit the road during for the four days traditionally viewed as the time for one last summer travel adventure. Numerous states are seeing increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases, and others, such as New York and New Mexico, require people from hot-spot states to quarantine. With the start of the new academic years, schools with classes in person or hybrid learning models have travel restrictions in place for their students, such as self-quarantining.
Whether it’s a seven-hour drive to another region or a day trip, people may worry about adherence to social distancing and mask rules, especially at indoor destinations. Even if they’re going to be vigilant, who knows about fellow travelers.
A new survey from WalletHub found that 77% of Americans don’t trust other people to be responsible about social distancing over the long holiday weekend.
Though for previous Labor Day weekends he’s traveled to Mexico or Austin, Jayah Kaisamba, a software project manager in Fort Worth, Texas, is planning to stay local this year due to COVID-19 concerns, because he lives with his older mother and a 1-year-old nephew.
“With everything going on, I prefer to stay close to home and not go too far out,” he says. “I don’t want to be out there and potentially have me bring something back from out of town. I’ve been following protocol.”
AAA isn’t issuing a Labor Day travel forecast this year. In June, the organization forecast that Americans would take 707 million trips July 1-September 30 via car, air, rail, cruise, etc.—down 14.6% from 2019’s 828 million. Out of all the modes of transportation, automobile travel is taking the smallest hit, dropping 3.3% from 706 million trips in 2019 to 683 million in 2020. That means 97% of this summer’s trip are in cars.
One of the people getting behind the wheel this Labor Day weekend is tech editor Jaym Gates, who plans to drive with her dog from their home in Seattle to visit her mother in Vancouver, Washington. However, because she expects traffic due to more people hitting the open road this weekend, Gates is going to start the three-hour drive earlier in the morning than she normally would.
She says she’s vigilant about social distancing and wearing a mask but anticipates spikes of COVID-19 cases two weeks after the long weekend.
“You’re starting to see people talking about missing doing things,” Gates says. “I’m frustrated, because I was one of the people early on who took this really seriously. I haven’t seen people I’m really close to since March.”