When war broke out last week, Ed Unitas was bracing for a long, cold winter at the gas pumps.
The owner of Rosedale Texaco on Pulaski Highway, Unitas said he was convinced that gasoline prices would soar once the Persian Gulf battle began, forcing customers to cut back on consumption.
But Unitas said yesterday that since the outbreak of war he's been able to reduce prices at the pump by an average of 8 cents a gallon, his largest reduction since the August invasion of Kuwait by Iraq.
The result has been happier customers, although signs of hard times for the economy remain.
"Credit-card use has almost doubled," Unitas said. "And I'm getting a lot of change and one dollar bills. That's a sign that people just don't have money, it's getting tough out there."
Other station owners in the region, as well as oil industry experts, report similar declines in gas prices since the war began. No one, however, is hazarding a guess as to what prices will ultimately do.
"Everything is so volatile, I don't know that we're witnessing a trend yet," said Jerry Cheski, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association's national headquarters.
In fact, the results of a nationwide spot survey released this week by AAA show gas prices actually increasing one-half cent since Jan. 15, two days before the war began. But stations in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and West reported lower than average prices, the survey said, although exact figures were not released for each region.
Cheski said that regional discrepancies are not unusual, and that prices normally decline during the winter months. The war, however, adds an unpredictable dimension, he said.
Right now, local consumers may be benefiting from a decline in prices caused by a gasoline glut.
Before Jan. 17, producers were stockpiling oil and increasing prices out of fear that war would curtail the availability of Mideast crude, said Harry Murphy, director of the Greater Washington-Maryland Automotive and Repair Association. But, when the war started and appeared to be going "great guns," Murphy said, prices dropped.
Murphy said that statewide prices appeared to have declined between 9 and 10 cents a gallon in the last week. The Maryland chapter of AAA is expecting to complete a statewide survey of prices by next week.
AAA figures released Jan. 4 showed the average gasoline price had declined 7 to 10 cents a gallon since December.
At the time, the price at self-serve pumps averaged $1.33 for a gallon of unleaded regular, $1.43 for a gallon of medium grade and $1.53 for a gallon of premium, the report states.
At Rosedale Texaco, Unitas said gas prices were $1.19 for regular unleaded, $1.36 for mid-grade and $1.39 for high-grade.
Other local gas stations reported their prices during the past week have dropped between 1.5 cents to 6 cents a gallon.
Steve Jones, manager of the Benfield Road Citgo, said his business has picked up tremendously since he switched from a Texaco supplier and was able to reduce the pump price by 20 cents a gallon. Gas at his Severna Park station was $1.18 for regular unleaded, $1.29 for mid-grade and $1.38 for high-grade.
.` Baltimore area gasoline prices
Here is a sampling of gasoline prices yesterday around the Baltimore area.
Station.. ........ ...... ....... ...... .Unleaded Mid-grade High-grade
CRosedale Texaco, 7514 Pulaski Highway..... $1.19... .$1.36. .$1.39
CRolling Road Exxon,7415 Windsor Mill Rd....$1.19.. ..$1.28. .$1.38
CBenfield Rd Citgo, Route 3 & Benfield Rd...$1.18.. ..$1.29. .$1.38
Adolph Ray Citgo, 1726 York Road.......... $1.17.. . $1.29. .$1.37
Columbia Amoco, Route 29 & St. Johns...... $1.22.. ..$1.35. .$1.44
Beltway Sunoco, 8730 Pulaski Highway.......$1.24.. ..$1.37. .$1.46
Campus Hills Chevron, 832 Providence Road $1.22.. .$1.33. .$1.41
Harundale Texaco,Aquahart Rd & Greenway. .$1.16. ..$1.26. .$1.39