Transportation Nation

Lower Gasoline Prices Squeeze Locally-Owned Fuel Stations

Friday, December 28, 2012

(photo by C.M. Keiner via flickr)

(Kristian Foden-Vencil, Oregon Public Broadcasting) Gas prices in Portland haven't been this low for almost two years.

Gregg Laskoski is a petroleum analyst with the price tracking website GasBuddy. He says big stores like Safeway are using cheap gas as a loss-leader. "When you sell gasoline at the lowest price in the market, you're bringing a lot of traffic into your store," Laskoski says. "And while a certain number of those folks will certainly buy gas, many of the same consumers are going to come in the store and buy many other things."

Brainard Brauer owns Redland gas station, just outside Oregon City. He says he understands the benefits of a competitive marketplace, but Costco is now selling fuel for less than he can buy it. "It hurts me as the owner to see customers upset and even angry, for us charging a higher price than a Fred Meyer, Safeway, and now a Costco, that is seriously undercutting the market."

Brauer says he appreciates a competitive marketplace, but he says smaller stations may be driven out of business by such gas prices.

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Transportation Nation

Confusion at the Gas Pump: Which Grade is Best?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Octane ratings at a California gas station, 2007 (photo by f31fud via flickr)

(Isabel Angell -- San Francisco, KALW) Gas prices in California are always a big problem. And this year, the average price per gallon is set to hit four dollars – the highest average ever. It seems like there’s nothing the average driver can do to lower their fuel costs – except, maybe, change what grade of gasoline they buy. Most people, though, have no idea what that means for their car.

A choice at the pump

At a gas station in El Cerrito, people pull up in their cars to fill up their tanks. At some point, each of them presses a button: regular, mid-grade, or premium. The higher the grade, the higher the octane content. And the higher the octane content, the higher the price. At this gas station, regular gasoline costs $3.82 per gallon and premium costs $4.05 – twenty-two cents more expensive. I’m curious, so I start asking people what kind of gas they’re buying, and why.

Kate Foley buys gets regular because it’s the cheapest, she tells me with a laugh.

Susie Marcus went for the regular unleaded, “I guess because it’s the least expensive and I have not seen any proof that buying the better gas makes you go farther or better mileage.”

Ariana Jones sprung for the premium. She tells me it’s the only kind her car will take.

So, how are they making these decisions? If it’s just based on price, there’s no reason to use premium, unless the more expensive gas is actually better.

For answers, I turned to Daniel Kammen, a professor at the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley. He told me octane is a measure of energy content. So the different grades of gas have different energy contents. I asked him what that means for my car.

“You get more zip in the car when you use a fuel with a higher energy content,” says Kammen.

But before you start imagining your humble Honda Civic transforming into a fiery red Mustang, a word of warning from Kammen: “There's very little difference in everyday behavior. So if you're doing urban driving, you’re not going to notice much difference because you're not going at the speeds when it matters. And on the highway you have to have a really high performance car to really see that difference.”

And by high performance car, he doesn’t mean a lowly BMW.

“You most likely see it when you start driving Lamborghinis and Ferraris,” says Kammen.

The latest numbers from the California Energy Commission say that 18 percent of gas sold in California in 2010 was premium. But 18 percent of Californians probably don’t own a Lamborghini.

So why do people buy premium when they don’t have to? I asked Sudhot Bhat, who teaches marketing strategy at San Francisco State. He says that most consumers are not experts in the things that they buy.

“Even for things like toothpaste, they are not very good judges of quality,” Bhat says. “So what I sometimes think is that a lot of consumers use price as a gauge of quality. If they do not know much about a product, they tend to think that the product with the higher price is higher quality.”

Bhat says because most people don’t know what’s going on in their gas tank, some consumers might spring for the premium gas just because it’s more expensive. But he has a solution for people who want to get the most bang for their buck: look it up on the internet.

“I think if consumers had more time and they did some research, they would know what really is good quality. You don't have to take the manufacturer's word for it, you can actually go on see what other people are saying,” says Bhat.

One of the big reasons people say they like to buy premium is to prevent engine knocking, when the fuel doesn’t explode the right way in the engine, and that makes a knocking sound. It means you’re not getting the full power of the gas – and if it keeps happening, it can actually hurt your car. But, for the last fifteen years or so, engines have been built with sensors to prevent this exact thing from happening.

So what should you be buying? I took Sudhot Bhat’s advice and turned to the Internet. What I found matched what Berkeley’s Dan Kammen told me: if your car’s manual says it runs on regular, there’s no reason to splurge on a higher grade. And many high-performance cars will run on regular – you just might not get the maximum power possible. Turbo-charged really do require the high-octane premium, so check with your mechanic before making the switch.

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NYC Gas Post-Storm Rationing Set to End Saturday

Friday, November 23, 2012

The first day of the holiday shopping season will be the last full day of post-Superstorm Sandy gasoline rationing in New York City.



Nassau, Suffolk to End Gas Rationing

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Nassau and Suffolk Counties are ending gas rationing at the end of this Friday, a little over a week after it began. Rationing ended in New Jersey earlier this week, and continues in New York City.



Gas Rationing Will End in New Jersey, Continue in NYC and Long Island

Monday, November 12, 2012

New Jersey will end its 1970s-style even-odd gas rationing system at 6 a.m., Tuesday, just in time for the first morning rush hour after the holiday weekend.



Experts Say Gas Lines in Parts of City, Long Island Could Persist

Friday, November 09, 2012

Gas rationing is now in effect in New York City's five boroughs and on Long Island, but the effectiveness of the program may depend on where you live, experts say.

Comments [2]

The Takeaway

Gas Rationing Begins in New York

Friday, November 09, 2012

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the availability of gas in New York and New Jersey went down while the demand for it went up. Governor Mike Bloomberg’s rationing plan goes into effect today in New York. Christopher Knittel, a professor of energy economics at MIT, says the solution is simpler than you'd think.

Comments [4]

New Jersey News

NJ Gas Distribution Network Faces Challenges After Sandy

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Getting gas for cars and generators continues to pose challenges for residents in many parts of the New Jersey, a week after Sandy.

Comments [6]


Storm Challenges Compounding for Newark Residents

Thursday, November 01, 2012

This week’s storm knocked out power for 95 percent of Newark residents. It’s coming back now, neighborhood by neighborhood. But as the week wears on, residents are realizing electricity is just part of the challenges they now have to contend with.



Power, Transit Problems Drive Lines at the Pumps

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Around the metropolitan area, drivers are lining up at gas stations for hours on end to fill up. More people are traveling by car because of limited mass transit and many are buying gas to fuel generators after losing power. 

Comments [5]

Transportation Nation

Presidential Debate: No Transpo Talk, Just Gas Prices and Oil Production

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

US President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney debate on October 16, 2012 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Although the second question in Tuesday night's presidential debate was about gas prices, those hoping for conversation about transportation policy  -- or even the word "transportation -- were disappointed.

And while President Barack Obama once spoke frequently about the need to renew the country's infrastructure, that word also wasn't uttered by either candidate.

But here's what was talked about: a transcript of the conversation shows the word “gas” 30 times.

In response to a question about how much the U.S. can control gas prices, President Obama said: "The most important thing we can do is to make sure we control our own energy. So here's what I've done since I've been president. We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it's been in decades." A few moments later, he said that during his administration, "we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you're going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas."

Governor Mitt Romney disputed the president's numbers. "Oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production is down 9 percent," he said, adding that "I'll get America and North America energy-independent. I'll do it by more drilling, more permits and licenses. We're going to bring that pipeline in from Canada." This led to a spirited exchange about domestic oil production.

Later in the debate, the candidates sparred over the auto industry bailout, but during the debate the words “transportation,” “infrastructure” and “transit” weren’t mentioned once.

President Obama did use a “bus driver” as a salary example during a tax policy question; he also said he’d take the money the country has been spending on war and “rebuild America — roads, bridges, schools.”

No matter what their commitment to transit, one thing is certain: one of these men will be gracing a D.C. fare card in January.

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Ramps versus Gasoline: What Will You Pay Good Money for?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

I'm supposed to hyperventilate when I see ramps at my local green market. They're wild! They're the first green veggie of the season! But they're so expensive. The price tag is what gets me breathing heavily: $4 a bunch, $15 a pound. Really? For an onion?



Report: NY, NJ to See Big Savings from Fuel Efficient Cars by 2025

Thursday, April 19, 2012


An increase in fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 will save New York and New Jersey motorists big money, according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. New Yorkers will save almost $3 billion a year, while New Jersey residents will save $1.5 billion.


The Takeaway

President Obama to Crack Down on Oil Manipulation

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

President Obama announced a crackdown on manipulation and speculation in the oil markets, calling for more government oversight of the oil markets, including increased funding and staffing for the Commodities Future Trading Commission and an increase in civil and criminal penalties for market manipulators. Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service, looks at Obama’s speech, oil speculation, and energy pricing.

Comments [1]

The Takeaway

US Slowly Moving Towards Energy Independence

Friday, March 23, 2012

Energy independence has the potentitial to completely reshape American foreign policy and the U.S. economy, yet environmental concerns persist. We're joined by Clifford Krauss, oil and gas business reporter for our partner The New York Times, to discuss the possibility of energy independence.


The Takeaway

Why Cushing, Oklahoma Matters

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yesterday, President Obama kicked off a two-day tour to highlight his administration’s energy strategy, which includes a stop in a small city called Cushing. If you aren’t from Oklahoma, you might not know about Cushing, or why it factors into the president’s energy plans. Ben Allen, a reporter from affiliate station KOSU in Oklahoma City, is here to explain. Carol O’Dell owned a ranch just outside Cushing, and she’s still a regular visitor to the town.

Comments [1]

The Takeaway

Is the Price of Gas the Only Economic Indicator that Matters?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Most economic indicators point to America being on the upswing in 2012. The stock market is up. Unemployment is down. And the strains in the global financial markets have eased. Yet 59 percent of voters rate President Obama negatively when it comes to the economy, according to a new Washington Post/ABC poll.

Could it be because of the one economic indicator that’s stubbornly not improving: gas prices?

Comments [3]

The Takeaway

Rising Gas Prices and President Obama's Re-Election

Monday, February 27, 2012

With high unemployment numbers, a slowly recovering economy, protest movements like Occupy and the Tea Party, the economy has been a hot topic for this election cycle. And for some politicians, the most important economic indicator is the price at the gas pump: last week Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich released a 30-minute ad that faults the Obama administration for rising gas prices.

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Ray LaHood Talks Transpo on The Takeaway, Made in America's Unintended Consequences

Friday, February 17, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Adele Has It All: 6 Grammys…And a Great Bike (link)
Study: Teen Driving Deaths Up After 8 Years of Decline (link)
House Transpo Bill Stalled In a Frenzy of Fingerpointing (link)
Houston Loop Project Moves to Next Phase (link)
Feds Pitch First-Ever Distracted Driving Guidelines For Automakers (link)
Boehner: ‘Fundamental Change’ Means This Bill Stays in GOP Territory (link)

San Francisco bus (photo by jonathanpercy via flickr)

U.S. DOT head Ray LaHood talked about the deadlocked transportation bill on The Takeaway.

Enforcer buses: by early next year San Francisco's entire fleet of 819 buses will be equipped with forward-facing cameras that take pictures of cars traveling or parked in the bus and transit-only lanes. (Atlantic Cities)

Opinion: the transpo bill is a backlash against the Obama Administration's "cluelessness about the difference between national transportation policy and urban transport policy." (Politico)

The unintended consequences of "Made in America:" Boeing -- a U.S. airplane manufacturer -- is selling its planes to foreign airlines, which are then taking over routes previously pioneered by U.S. carriers. (Washington Post)

Nevada --where Google test-drives its robotic cars -- is becoming the first state to create a licensing system for self-driving cars. (NPR)

Any consumer savings from the payroll tax cut will probably be erased by higher gas prices. (Marketplace)

A routine repair project on a California highway went awry -- and has turned into a full-fledged scandal. (Los Angeles Times)

High-speed taxiways  -- designed to get jets off runways faster -- are coming to Newark airport. (Asbury Park Press)

Bike share is coming to Austin's SXSW. (Bike World News)

Want one of the wooden benches NYC is phasing out of the subway system? It can be yours for a mere $650. (New York Daily News)

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Hundreds in Harlem Have Been Without Gas for 2 Weeks

Thursday, August 25, 2011


The simple pleasures of a home-cooked meal and hot shower have been out of reach for more than 800 Harlem residents whose gas was never restored following a water main break nearly two weeks ago.

Comments [2]