10/01/05 — Conservation provides some leverage on fuel prices

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Conservation provides some leverage on fuel prices

There is something fishy going on at the pumps.

It is not surprising that prices are going up. They always do.

What makes the situation seem a little bit more like dealer profit-taking and a little less like supply and demand is the range of those prices and how quickly they seem to be jetting up and down.

At one point this week, there was even a $3.79 price tag on gas on North Berkeley, followed by $3.09 and $3.10 down the road.

The dealers say the reason for the discrepancy is supply. They say the high prices are used to control inventory. If there is a chance that a station might not have enough gas to open its doors because of a slow or reduced shipment, the higher price allows the station to maintain an inventory.

OK, maybe. But that still does not explain why gas prices vary so widely and why stations in this region are so much more expensive than for the same product in Raleigh, which is even farther away from the coast.

Most consumers understand that it is going to cost a little bit more than usual to fill their cars. The hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico left damage and delays in their wake, and you should expect to pay a little more for a product that comes from that area.

But someone — whether at the state or the national level — should be looking a little more closely at whether these prices are driven more by what the dealers can get and less by what the market requires. And if we find price-gouging, there should be consequences.

Americans are spoiled. If we need our cars, it doesn’t matter how much it costs to fill them. We do what we have to do.

But maybe it is time that we think a little bit more about conservation and whether that second trip to the store that day is really more of a luxury than a necessity.

As long as there are people willing to plop down whatever the sign says for the gas, there will be no incentive for stations to be competitive.

If consumers become a little more price conscious, so too will the dealers who supply the product.

Conservation really is the best way to beat high gas prices.

Published in Editorials on October 1, 2005 10:28 PM