As the price of gasoline climbs across the country, putting economists and travel analysts on watch for the coming summer season, Vineyard gas prices that famously top the charts suddenly have good company.
Will gas prices reach $5 a gallon, the national experts ask? On the Island they are almost there.
The American Automobile Association (AAA), which tracks gasoline prices around the country, reported yesterday the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $3.73. Mid-grade fuel was $3.88 and premium gas was $4.01 a gallon.
On the Vineyard the price of gas exceeds those averages by nearly a dollar, and Island drivers are paying more than those in California, Connecticut and Hawaii, states with historically high gas prices.
A sampling of prices at gas stations across the Island yesterday showed an average price of $4.46 for regular unleaded, $4.60 for mid-grade fuel and $4.68 for premium.
The AAA reports state and national gas prices have been increasing by one cent per day during the past few weeks.
On Cape Cod you can fill up your tank for less than here. The average price of gas in Falmouth yesterday was $3.80 a gallon; in Woods Hole it was $3.76. In New Bedford the price was $3.69 for regular unleaded, while Nantucket sounded more like the Vineyard at $4.59 a gallon for regular gas.
A price check on the Vineyard showed that among the nine stations, the down-Island towns had the priciest gas. Regular unleaded was selling for $4.59 at Edgartown Mobil, $4.55 at the Edgartown Shell station, $4.47 at Airport Mobil, and $4.49 at Xtra Mart in Vineyard Haven. The price for regular at the Tisbury Shell station, and at Jim’s Package Store and deBettencourt’s Garage in Oak Bluffs, was $4.51. Prices up-Island were a bit lower: $4.38 at Up-Island Automotive in West Tisbury and $4.19 at Menemsha Texaco, the lowest price on the Island.
In a story about the price of gas 12 years ago, the Gazette found the price of regular ranged from $1.87 to $1.94 a gallon.
Vineyard drivers are typically taking it all in stride. “We’ve got to have it and we’ve got to pay it.,” said Ken O’Connor who was filling up at the Edgartown Shell station yesterday. “I just make sure I do my shopping at the same time as the gas, at the same time as picking up my Coors Light. You have to, especially when you live in West Tisbury,” he said.
It costs Mr. O’Connor around $70 to fill up his Jeep Cherokee. “We all realized that when we decided to live here everything is going to cost a little more,” he said.
Kelly Berninger takes a different approach. “I try not to think about it as much as possible,” Ms. Berninger said, putting $20 worth of gas into her car. “I try not to drive around as much.”
Ms. Berninger said she likes to use the Depot gas station because of the Stop and Shop points she can collect. Up-Island Automotive also offers gas at discounted prices on Sundays, and cars from all around the Island line up for the cheaper fuel.
Clarence A. (Trip) Barnes 3rd, who owns a moving and trucking company in Vineyard Haven, is all too familiar with the price of gas and the many variables around it. Just last month he spent $20,000 on diesel fuel for his big trucks alone. Mr. Barnes called it an “unexpected pleasure to write out that check,” compared with the $50,000 he paid for fuel just before Christmas.
“It used to be 25 cents a gallon when I started, and it was up a buck, a buck and a half, two bucks,” he said yesterday morning. “But this is ridiculous, this is like Europe, there’s no reason for it. I don’t know who to yell at.”
Mr. Barnes said he is paying about $4.25 a gallon for diesel fuel for his trucks, and he expects the price could reach $5. His moving rates will have to go up accordingly, he said.
“That means it costs $1 a mile to drive my big trucks,” he said. “Granted they can gross out at 80,000 pounds but furniture isn’t heavy, it’s bulky and it’s very, very scary trying to figure out what to charge extra to the local people.” He continued: “It seems to me that the gas companies are recording record profits and some of that should be given back to the rank and file. There’s no reason for it. I love all these candidates running for president and nobody has even mentioned this. In small-time America that’s the biggest issue there is.”
Mr. Barnes travels across the country in his moving trucks, and he said places where he used to be able to count on lower prices no longer exist.
“We’re still looking for an oasis in the desert, like it used to be cheaper in New Jersey. Well it’s not, maybe a couple cents,” he said. “But it’s nothing worth going down there and filling up.”
Mr. Barnes is trying to win permission to build a gas station and electric car recharging station in Vineyard Haven, but for now he said he buys his fuel from R.M. Packer Co. in Vineyard Haven.
Ralph Packer, the owner of the company, agreed yesterday that at the moment the outlook for gas prices is not good.
“It’s devastating,” Mr. Packer said. “The world is in turmoil in terms of petroleum. We should have a small drop [on Friday] but who knows where it will go after that. We don’t have a crystal ball.”
Mr. Packer said most of his customers have grown used to the high price of fuel. “They seem to be willing to live with it,” he said, concluding:
“It’s very difficult and hopefully we’ll have a solution soon. Until then, the only thing we can do is drive slower and less.”