WOONSOCKET – A drive around the city this week offered a discerning motorist a range of approximately eight cents on the cost of a gallon of gasoline depending upon where that driver decided to pull in.
And if the motorist had also checked gasoline prices elsewhere in the Rhode Island, that range could increase to .45 cents under a rough comparison of high to low station offerings.
AAA Southern Rhode Island, the area chapter of the national automobile and travel association, keeps track of gas prices for its weekly posting of a statewide gas price average and that showed Rhode Island to have an average gas price of $3.65 per gallon heading into school vacation week.
David Raposa, director of public affairs for AAA Southern New England, said the organization looks at 35 to 40 gas stations around the state each week to track gasoline price trends with a posting of the weekly average cost. The poll for this week showed a variation of about 26 cents between the high and low at the stations AAA tracks, he noted.
Price can mean a lot to Rhode Island motorists given the expense of commuting daily to work or driving to any of New England’s many recreation and vacation opportunities, according to Raposa.
“In the Northeast in particular people live within driving distance not only of popular destinations, whether it’s New York City or the lakes and mountains, but you are also probably within driving distance of a lot of family members,” he said. “So people in this part of the country really do like to take those driving vacations,” Raposa said.
Taking a vacation trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire can represent travel time of three to four hours in the car and that means the cost of gas must also be factored into the trip’s expense, he noted. Although some people might think an approaching scheduled vacation week like April school vacation could influence gasoline prices, Raposa said variations in local gasoline prices typically represent business decisions of local retailers or the overall price of oil on an international basis as it rises or falls.
“There is not necessarily a particular reason why something might cost a little bit different in Woonsocket than it does in Westerly-- that just tends to be a business decision that the station owners make,” he said.
A corporate policy may influence pricing depending on the station, and Raposa said a station owner may also consider competition when setting a price for gas.
“It might be that somebody looks at the stations down the street and says you know gee there are five stations right together, maybe we want to be lower than the other guy,” Raposa said.
“Then there might be another guy who turns around and says, `you know what I'm the only station for mile around, you know maybe I'll price it even a little bit higher,” he said. Those too are just business decisions made by the owners, he added.
The stronger influences on price that exceed the local considerations begin with the cost of a barrel of crude oil, according to Raposa.
That is what oil analysts watch when trying to predict what oil investors will be doing.
“They would look and see if something happened in the world that investors thought might jeopardize the price of oil, and then the price of oil might shoot up,” he said.
That can be seen when a hurricane or other disasters force refineries to shutdown and in turn reduced the available supply.
“There is fear the supply of oil is going to get a little bit tighter and so the price goes up,” he said. The reverse scenario in regard to supply can also affect prices, according to Raposa.
“Sometimes there is a glut. The demand is not great, but there is plenty of product, and that's when the prices can sometimes ease,” he said.
Today, oil is a global commodity in demand by a greater number of consumers and that fact can have an impact on price as well, according to Raposa.
Looking ahead, Raposa said AAA’s fuel cost trackers are hoping that this year that the cycle where prices tend to go up in the spring is happening a little earlier and actually a slight decrease in price might be ahead.
“We’re kind of hoping that the recent downward trend at least continues through Memorial Day. It is really hard to look past that because you don't know what's out there that is going to start affecting the price of oil,” he said.
At the moment, supply does not appear to be a big issue, according Raposa. “That would have a dramatic impact on pricing if all of a sudden people thought, `Oh, there's not enough gasoline out there,’ but that is not an issue at all right now,” he said.
And, he noted motorists do have an opportunity to “shop around” in their travels.
Given the range of 26 cents between the AAA surveyed stations, Raposa said someone living in Woonsocket and working in Providence, or vice versa, should keep an “eye out for the prices because they are going to find that $3.50 something somewhere,” he said.
“It might be easier to say well let’s to go the station around the corner and then you find out that's the one at $3.70,” he said.
Raposa said he wouldn’t recommended wasting gas driving around to find a low gas price but if someone is out traveling, he would tell them to shop around.
“You might find that there is station that you go by every day, and maybe it’s not the one near your house, but you go by it all the time and that is the one that's 5 or 10 cents lower,” he said.
And for those traveling, there are websites like AAA’s fuelgaugereport.com that can provide a motorist with information on the cheapest gas prices on a travel route to say New York or even Orlando, Florida. That could help a traveler to decide to stop on Delaware rather than going a little farther on the route to say Maryland, he noted.
If someone is planning a long trip for school vacation week, Raposa said the forecast for fuel cost is a good one.
“There is nothing out there that is suggesting the price is going to spike,” he said. “And if it went up, it would really have nothing to do with the fact that it is school vacation week.”