Despite earlier forecasts anticipating steadily rising gas prices well past Memorial Day, prices at the pump began declining in April and are now cheaper than they were a year ago at this time. That’s not to say prices are cheap—nor that there aren’t stations blatantly gouging customers with inexplicably high prices.
According to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report, as of Thursday the national average for a gallon of regular stood at $3.83, which is lower than it was the day before ($3.84), the week before ($3.89), the month before ($3.90), and the year before ($3.87). Are you noticing a trend here? But even as fuel costs drop, drivers in certain situations are paying far more than what’s reasonable given the marketplace. Some examples:
Entire states still have gas prices averaging over $4 per gallon—Alaska, California, Connecticut, to name the first three alphabetically. Even so, in certain situations around the U.S., charging over $4 seems like blatant price gouging because nearby gas stations are much, much cheaper. The Consumerist recently highlighted how the mayor of New Lenox, Ill., was encouraging drivers to fill up elsewhere because the town’s gas stations were charging upwards of $4.14 per gallon—which was confoundingly 10¢ to 15¢ more than in neighboring Joliet. According to GasBuddy, New Lenox stations are now charging $4.03 to $4.06 per gallon, but in Joliet gas currently costs as little as $3.93.
Drivers fueling up in St. Louis have had similar complaints. Some stations have been charging $4.19 per gallon in the city, while prices were as cheap as $3.38 on the other side of the state, in Kansas City.
Because of their remote locations and the costs incurred to supply them with gasoline, stations in some parts of the country are always far more expensive. In and around Bethel in southwestern Alaska, a gallon of regular topped the $6 mark a month ago and now $6.33 is typical. Residents of Catalina Island, in California, who have been paying over $7 a gallon for weeks, have little sympathy for mainlanders griping about the statewide average of around $4.18.
Again, though, the higher prices in these hard-to-reach locations seem more or less justified. On the other hand, there are the gas stations in Long Island charging over $6 per gallon to customers paying with credit cards—a $2- or $3-per-gallon surcharge on top of cash prices that are a bit over $4 per gallon. Another notorious rip-off can be found at a gas station near Orlando International Airport. For years, consumers have complained about the Suncoast Energys, a station that routinely gouged customers who needed to fill up their rental cars before returning them to the lot at the airport. Last fall, local officials forced the station to post prices clearly, but it is powerless to stop the station from charging exorbitant prices. In recent days, Suncoast Energys has been charging at or around $6 per gallon, when a gallon sells for $3.65 or $3.70 at other stations in the Orlando area.
Speaking of rental cars, USA Today recently rounded up the rates being charged to customers who hadn’t prepaid for gas and who returned their vehicles not full. At many airport-location lots, renters would be charged $8.99 per gallon to fill the car up. Avis and Budget rental centers at airports in Boston, Dallas, and Denver charged the most: $9.30 per gallon.
Finally, there’s one other “place” in the U.S. where $9 gas appears. Fortunately, it’s not a real place, but a political ad: As the Wall Street Journal‘s Washington Wire blog recently pointed out, the “Nine Dollar Gas” commercial bashing the Obama administration’s energy policies—and warning that $9 per gallon could come as a result of these policies—was the top-ranking political ad last week.