April 30, 2005 – Shop and compare. Consumers have always looked for the best price in the goods they purchase; now comparison shopping has made its way to the pumps. How far would you drive to get a few cents off the rising price of gasoline?
"Mike" was at Consumer's Gas station in Grove Place putting gas in his green Jeep Cherokee. "I can't afford to fill it up anymore," he said. Mike said he tries to limit his driving to doing "just important things" and tries to find the "cheapest place" to fill up.
Gas prices around St. Croix range from $1.85 to $2.09 for regular and $1.90 to $2.18 for premium unleaded. "It's the highest it's ever been in St. Croix," Mike said, jiggling the gas hose to get that last drop.
Kathy Gibson of Washington, D.C., is on St. Croix visiting with family. She has been coming to St. Croix for more than 20 years and was surprised at the cost of gas. "You have the company [Hovensa] here," she said. "It's almost as high as it is in D.C." Gibson said most Washingtonians get around the gas prices by using public transportation, which "can get you anywhere fast."
Crucians say their public transportation system is woefully inadequate. In May 2003, Verne Callwood Jr., Public Works transportation director, said St. Croix is allowed to run four buses daily, but at the time only two buses were operable. Callwood said Public Works requested federal funds to purchase 10 new buses for the territory. (See Public Works: St. Croix To Get Its Buses Back.) In September 2004, Gov. Charles Turnbull sent out a press release announcing the receipt of $3,413,183 in federal funds to improve public transportation. (See VITRAN Gets Funds to Buy Buses, Upgrade System.)
Bridgette Cox-Dawson said she's cut down "running taxi" for her teenage daughter." She takes public transportation more now," she said. Dawson, who drives a Ford Explorer, said her gas expenses increased from $25 to $40 a week in the last few months. "I don't see it getting any better," she said. She is considering trading in her Explorer for a regular car because of the price of gas. "I don't want to because the roads are so bad. The SUV handles the roads better."
The gas station owners say the competition in the price wars is fierce, and they question whether anyone really wins.
Curtis Lionel, part owner of Lionel's Service station in Golden Rock, said the competition is unnecessary and bad for business. "It doesn't matter; St. Croix, St. Thomas, the states, it's all the same," Lionel said. The price of oil is rising everywhere, and we shouldn't expect Hovensa to give us a break because they have to purchase oil from Venezuela, he said.
Lionel doesn't think gas stations should have so many variations in their gasoline prices because Hovensa sells the gas at the same price to everyone, yet stations are selling the same gasoline at different prices. "It should be uniform," he said. "We should all sell it at the same price. The owners are shortchanging themselves."
Lionel's sells gas at $2.09 for regular and $2.18 for premium. They also have a separate category called "Blend," a mixture of unleaded and premium gasolines that sells for $2.11.
Husam Ali agrees that price wars are not good for his business. His family owns the Concordia gas station and the Lorraine gas station. Ali said businesses with large capital can afford to go low and make less profit. He said some owners lower their prices to harm other businesses in the immediate area. Ali sells his gas at Concordia at $1.98 for unleaded and $1.99 for premium unleaded. At the Lorraine station, prices are $2.04 for unleaded and $2.14 for premium unleaded. "It's a free market; everyone is allowed to set their own prices," Ali said. He said at the Lorraine station, prices are higher in the vicinity. "I go with the status quo," he said.
The government tried recently to intervene and force gasoline prices down when it placed a profit cap on gasoline sales. DCLA rescinded the cap after Texaco and Esso Virgin Islands Inc. filed suits against the Virgin Islands government contesting the order. (See Consumer Department Removes Cap on Gas Profits.)
In an April Senate Government Operations and Consumer Protection hearing, DCLA Commissioner Andrew Rutnik said he was hopeful that U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez would rule that the agency has the authority to regulate the gasoline companies and reduce gas prices. (See Gas Prices Said to be Bleeding the Territory.)
Maybe the answer doesn't lay with the station owners, Hovensa or the government. Larry Smith said he tries his luck every time he goes to fill up.
"Two Powerball tickets, please. This gas is too damn expensive."
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