Rising gas prices seem to pump the money out of customers’ pockets, but in Santa Barbara, gasoline station owners are having the same complaint.
Local station owners have raised prices higher than in other areas of California, and indeed the country, due to various factors, especially the area’s affluence and the state’s cleaner fuel standards. The result, an unfortunate one they say, is a substantial loss of business to smaller, independent stations – not to mention bicycles and buses.
Jason Toews, co-founder of Gasbuddy.com, a consumer advocacy group concerned with gas prices, said refineries hold the ultimate responsibility of pricing gasoline by zone. Since Santa Barbara is one of the more affluent zones in California, prices are higher.
“Santa Barbara has lots of affluent people who are much less sensitive to high prices, whereas in other areas people are more price-sensitive,” Toews said.
Gas prices are also affected by the politics and economies of oil-producing nations such as Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela, Toews said. And while political strife in oil-rich parts of the world may affect prices, California’s cleaner fuel standards push that cost even higher: Cleaner gasoline – so to speak – is more expensive to refine. Higher refinery prices translate into higher prices at the pump, Toews said.
But locally, prices also depend on the real estate.
Matt Fouladi, who owns the 76 Station at the corner of Storke Road and Hollister Avenue – a station notorious for higher prices – said he charges more for gas because of the prime location. Fouladi said he is frustrated that the high cost of rent forces him to raise gas prices, and in turn, lose business.
“Of course we are losing business,” he said. “People are trying to get cheaper gas from other stations.”
Tom Price, owner of the 76 Station on Fairview Avenue, said he is also losing business. A station owner since 1972, Price said his station cannot compete with independent stations like Fuel Depot and Vons.
Price said his station typically charges approximately 20 cents more than Vons and Exxon, which are located across the street. He said that while bigger name stations like his own are struggling in Santa Barbara, the independent, smaller gas companies are doing well.
“The independents are scraping to see who can be the cheapest and are doing good business,” he said.
However, while affluent drivers in Santa Barbara can afford to pay high gas prices, they are not necessarily willing to pay, Toews said. With high prices, people are turning to hybrid cars, public transportation and shared rides in higher numbers.
The California Energy Commission recommends drivers should search for the lowest prices in their community, use carpooling, public transit or non-motorized transportation and limit the use of air-conditioning to help combat the rising gas prices.
Brian Carr, a senior political science and Spanish major, said the high prices of gas in Santa Barbara have led him to alternative methods of transportation.
“I find myself riding my bike now more than driving my car,” he said.