Motorists feeling the pain at gas pumps, especially in Aspen
ASPEN – Motorists throughout the country are complaining about high gas prices this spring but the sting is particularly harsh in Aspen, where prices were more than 62 cents per gallon above the national average last week.
AAA Colorado reported Friday that the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel was $3.81. The average was $3.59 per gallon in Colorado and $3.54 in Denver. The Aspen Store Shell station was well above the state and national average at $4.45 per gallon at the end of the week. The Conoco station on Main Street charged $4.43 at week’s end.
Aspen stations aren’t alone in exceeding the state average. AAA reported Friday that the average price in Glenwood Springs, where competition is fiercer than in Aspen, was $3.88 per gallon.
Several stations in the Roaring Fork Valley had the dubious distinction of being listed among the highest prices reported in Colorado via the website gasbuddy.com – where consumers can shop for the bestprices at the pump. The website includes a section called “highest regular gas prices in the last 36 hours” for each state. It’s not all-inclusive; it relies on observations sent in by motorists.
In Colorado, the Aspen Airport Business Center gas station was on the high end of the list Friday at $4.15 per gallon. The Catherine Store station came in at $3.99, as did the Shell station in El Jebel. 7-Eleven and Phillips 66 in Carbondale were reported at $3.89.
Basalt resident David Garrison, who commutes to work in Aspen, said he was frustrated by what he learned at gasbuddy.com. The site has a map that color codes gas prices throughout the country. Los Angeles and much of the West Coast is coded for the highest prices, but much of the heartland has lower prices. The Roaring Fork Valley is the exception. It’s an island of high prices on the color-coded map.
Garrison said he can write off the higher prices in Aspen since everything is more expensive there. He is less forgiving about downvalley prices being more expensive than the state average.
“It seems like a rip-off,” he said. “With the rise in gas prices lately, it’s on everybody’s mind.”
He said he particularly sympathetic for families that are driving kids to soccer practice and numerous other activities in vehicles like a Suburban. It costs more than $100 to fill their tanks at current prices.
Outside analysts offered different explanations of why prices are so high in the Aspen area. Gas station owners aren’t to blame, although most motorists take it out on them, said Wave Dreher, spokesperson for AAA Colorado. The profit margin on a gallon of gas is very thin – “pennies, if that,” she said. “It’s not the gas station owners that are raking it in.”
In fact, Dreher said, most gas stations make their profit by luring people in for pop, candy, cigarettes and other convenience items.
AAA’s research shows 73 percent of the price of a gallon of gas is determined by crude oil prices and another 10 percent is from refining charges; 11 percent comes from taxes; and just 6 percent comes from distribution and marketing.
Dreher said gas prices at mountain gas stations are higher in large part because the cost of transporting fuel there is higher. “Good old supply and demand” is another factor, she said. There are fewer stations in mountain towns than in metro areas, and less competition fuels higher prices.
“We know gas stations watch their neighbors,” she said. When one raises prices by a few pennies, competitors often follow suit. And since there are fewer stations, there is less of a chance one station will try to undercut competitors by slashing prices.
Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with gasbuddy.com, wasn’t as willing to let gas station owners off the hook. “More affluent areas charge higher prices,” he said, particularly stations in tourist areas.
He said the wholesale price of gas for mountain towns might be higher because there aren’t as many options. Delivery costs might also be higher, “but I can’t believe it’s insanely more,” DeHaan said.
Aspen prices in excess of $4.40 “seems out of line,” DeHaan said. “There’s really not a whole lot consumers can do. It goes with the territory of living in the mountains.”
The gasbuddy.com website was started to help consumers in areas where there is close competition. Motorists can use the research to do business with the stations that charge the least. Roaring Fork Valley motorists can also use that concept – to reward the stations that charge the least, DeHaan said.
If there’s any good news on the gas price front, it’s that prices shouldn’t rise more than 10 to 20 cents per gallon on average nationally before peaking, DeHaan said. Even in areas like Aspen, the price shouldn’t exceed $5 per gallon, he said.
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