<!--:es-->High Pump Prices Drive Many to Web for Deals<!--:-->

High Pump Prices Drive Many to Web for Deals

NEW YORK – With gasoline prices across the country soaring toward a record over $3 a gallon, increasing numbers of motorists are seeking to ease the punch to their pocketbooks by finding deals or carpool partners on the Internet.

Web sites like GasBuddy.com, a site that directs drivers to the lowest gasoline prices in their neighborhood, have seen traffic soar in recent weeks as the cost of filling up jumped to a national average of $2.91 a gallon.

“Because of the gas prices we’re seeing our traffic pretty much double,” said Jason Toews of GasBuddy.com.

Rising gasoline prices have become a major headache for consumers in the run-up to summer vacation season, prompting President George W. Bush this week to order a probe into price gouging and call on the Environmental Protection Agency to consider easing fuel regulations.

Energy experts have said gasoline prices could easily top $3 a gallon before Memorial Day weekend at the end of May, rivaling the record $3.07 a gallon hit in the aftermath of last year’s hurricanes.

Web sites like GasBuddy.com, with its comprehensive listings of gas prices, aims to help consumers find cheaper gas prices in their city through a network of more than 174 gas price information Web sites.

With prices changing frequently and varying by as much as 20 percent within only a few blocks, GasBuddy.com said it becomes more important to be able locate the service station with the lowest price.GasBuddy.com’s Toews told Reuters because of the high prices the site has seen its traffic rise from about 500,000 visitors a day one month to six weeks ago to about 1 million to 1.2 million visitors a day recently.

Other sites for finding gas prices include GasBuddy’s local site NewYorkGasPrices.com, and national sites like GasPriceAlert.com, aaa.com’s fuel price finder, and FuelMeUp.com.

Craig Basaraba of Razor Eye Media Group, which owns FuelMeUp.com and GasPriceAlert.com, said both sites have seen a tremendous increase in use over the past week.

GasPriceAlert, set up to send daily e-mails to a person based on the lowest gas prices within three zip codes, currently has more than 100,000 members. Basaraba said he was confident membership would triple as long as gas prices continue to climb the way they are now.

But finding a deal of a few cents a gallon may not be enough for some consumers, with many turning to car-pooling sites instead.

Carpool and ridesharing Web site, eRideshare.com, which last year in the wake of Hurricane Katrina saw its biggest push, said Wednesday it has seen a big spike in traffic in the past week – possibly with some help from a mention on Yahoo on Earth Day.

“It’s pretty safe to say there’s an increase in ridesharing interest. There’s only one other time that I’ve seen (this) and that was last August with the gas spike after the hurricane,” eRideshare.com Executive Director Steven Schoeffler told Reuters.

In addition, Susan MacTavish Best, a spokeswoman for online community craigslist, www.craigslist.org, said rideshare postings have grown steadily in the past few weeks.