Fluctuating gas prices
Published: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2009 at 5:34 p.m.
Average drivers notice. So do long-distance commuters. Workers whose jobs take them throughout North Central Florida really notice.
Gas prices fluctuate, sometimes significantly, from county to county — and often within the same county.
On Tuesday, a 100-mile journey through five North Central Florida counties showed a 19-cent difference between the highest and lowest prices for one gallon of regular unleaded gasoline.
Road warriors say the gap was more pronounced earlier this year, when gas prices were significantly higher. Still, the spread on this day was 12 percent.
Alachua County charges an additional 5-cent local option tax, so that partly explains the discrepancy. But it's not the only reason. Geography, freight charges and other factors come into play.
The Tuesday trip started at State Roads 231 and 121 in Lake Butler in Union County.
It ended in the sprawling retirement community of The Villages in north Sumter County.
The journey yielded the following information:
The lowest price (not including cash-only and store credit card specials) was $1.569 at a Race Trac along U.S. 441 in Belleview.
The highest prices were in the Gainesville area. The Texaco at Waldo Road and NE 16th Avenue and the Texaco and Amoco/BP stations at Williston Road and U.S. 441 listed $1.759 a gallon.
Overall, sub-$1.60 prices were found most frequently in Marion County. The highest average prices by county were in Alachua County.
According to AAA Club of the South, the average price per gallon for regular unleaded in the Gainesville area was about $1.73 on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Of the five counties — Union, Bradford, Alachua, Marion and Sumter — only Alachua County charges the extra local 5-cent gas tax. Out of 67 Florida counties, 18 assess the full extra 5 cents.
Steve Smith lives in Florahome in Putnam County and drives across North Central Florida for work. While filling up Tuesday at a Union County gas station, Smith said that as gas prices have plummeted in recent months, the difference from one county to another has also lessened.
He said price fluctuations are usually no more than 10 cents to 12 cents, but he still encounters some closer to 20 cents. Smith said he makes a mental note of where the cheapest prices are in different counties and makes a habit out of hitting those stations.
"If you're traveling enough, you pay attention to" the price differences, Smith said.
Kenneth Wood, chairman of the board of the Florida Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, said a number of factors contribute to price fluctuations, such as varying wholesale costs and freight charges, which increase as the distance from a port city such as Jacksonville or Tampa grows.
Other common factors affecting price include federal tax credits for ethanol blends, the presence or absence of competition from a nearby station, credit card fees and the rent or mortgage the station owner faces.
Wood said that if a station has a higher price, it shouldn't be presumed that the owner or operator is pocketing the difference.
In many cases, he said stations, particularly those with low sales volume, actually lose money on gas sales after credit card fees are factored in.
Often, the main purpose of gas sales for a store is to lure the customers inside to buy the marked-up items on which the shop makes a profit, Wood said.
"It always surprises me," said Wood, who works with Medallion Convenience Stores in Apopka. "People think we make a lot of money on gasoline, but we don't."
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