Mo Elgamal checks his e-mail every morning when he arrives for work at the Sunoco/Sam's Mart on Cherry Road.
The station owner is told by company bosses what to charge for gas each day, and lately, the numbers show a distressing trend. Customers are growing restless as prices creep toward $3 a gallon.
"If it's a penny less, they go down the street," Elgamal said Monday, as drivers filled up outside for $2.99 a gallon. "One penny or two pennies, trust me. I do the same sometimes."
Rock Hill-area motorists will soon pay more than $3 a gallon, and higher prices are on the way this summer, experts warn.
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The cheapest gas in town Monday sold for $2.91 a gallon at the Lesslie Food Mart, and only 14 stations charged less than $2.97 a gallon, according to SouthCarolinaGasPrices.com.
Don't complain too much, says Tom Crosby of AAA Carolinas. South Carolina boasts the nation's third-lowest gas prices behind Missouri and Wyoming. S.C. drivers pay 20 cents less per gallon compared to Charlotte.
Some folks drive across the border just to fill up, Crosby said, but the mileage tends to cancel out the savings.
"The economics of it don't really play out," he said. "The emotional feeling of saving money is why a lot of people do it."
The climb has been slow, but drivers take notice when gas prices cross certain thresholds.
"There's a visceral reaction when prices reach a milestone, like $3 a gallon and other round-number prices," said Michael Lynch, president of energy consulting firm Strategic Energy & Economic Research.
Prices are up 50 cents per gallon from a year ago, which translates into an extra $300 in annual gasoline costs if driving 15,000 miles in a vehicle that gets 25 mpg.
And here's the really bad news: Prices aren't likely to go down anytime soon.
"We see prices continuing to increase through the spring and summer," said EIA economist Neil Gamson. "We don't see prices under $3 for the next two years."
When prices climb, more commuters ditch their cars and ride the CATS 82X bus service into uptown Charlotte, Rock Hill officials have found. Passengers crammed into seats and aisles three years ago when prices hit $4.12 a gallon.
Now in its ninth year, the 82X service carries 3,000 people a month.
"The spike in ridership in 2008 started in July which was just as prices were reaching their peak above $4," said Bill Meyer, the city's planning and development director. "They stayed up through October and then dropped off."
Experts point to a couple of reasons for the gas increases:
Demand for crude oil, the main component for gasoline, is rising in large, developing countries such as China, India and Brazil.
The U.S. appetite for oil is returning as the economy picks up, particularly as Americans take more road trips in the spring and summer.
Political unrest in Egypt affected a transit hub for the global oil supply, home to the Suez Canal and a major Mediterranean oil pipeline.
At the Sunoco/Sam's Mart on Cherry Road, attendant Mary Bell said customers lament the rising prices - in English and Spanish - but there's not much she can do to help.
"We just pretty much have to hear the people complaining."
Want to fight back?
Some tips to help you battle against higher gas prices:
Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town.
Gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.24 per gallon for gas.
Using cruise control on the highway helps you maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas.
Fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.
Keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure and using the recommended grade of motor oil improves gas mileage by as much as 3.3 percent.
If you can, stagger your work hours to avoid peak rush hours.
More tips: fueleconomy.gov
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Energy