With gas prices nearing $4/gallon, experts discuss myths, truths of refueling

At the pump, consumers are close to paying the most they ever have per gallon of gasoline.

At local gas stations, many owners are selling gasoline at a loss in the hopes of luring customers to purchase food, drinks and other goods inside adjoining convenience stores.

The rising cost of filling up is frustrating everyone, said Jeff Lenard, the vice president of industry advocacy for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

Misinformation and rumors are not helping matters, he said. Transportation experts discussed myths behind higher gas prices. The average gas price in Maryland was $3.92 per gallon as of Friday, according to AAA.

Myth: Local gas station owners are profiting from the higher price of gasoline.

What's really happening: Retailers are likely losing money on every gallon of gasoline they sell, Lenard said. When the price of gas is at $3.90 per gallon, retailers are responsible for only 12 cents of that price, he said.

Local owners are reluctant to quickly raise prices, for fear that they will lose customers searching for the cheapest price in town, he said. If those people go to nearby locations, the retailer loses out in sales made inside convenience stores, he said.

"If you are priced out of line with someone else, people will remember that," Lenard said. "They don't need to know the reason why. They will presume it's because [the location owners] don't care about them."

Myth: Gas stores gouge owners on weekends.

What's really happening: Gasoline demand decreases on weekends when people are not traveling to work, Lenard said.

If anything, owners might knock a few cents of the price to beat a nearby competitor. Not all locations authorize their employees to change prices on weekends, he said. Thus, those that do could gain a customer or two by dropping the price a few cents.

Myth: More expensive gas means more profits for gas stations.

What's really happening: The more expensive gas gets, the more likely customers are to use credit cards to purchase gasoline, experts said.

Gas stations are charged a fee by the credit card companies. The greater the price of purchase, the greater the fee charged by the credit card companies.

It's an added expense for gas station owners, who are already potentially selling the product for a loss as prices rise. The owners recoup some of that when prices decrease, Lenard said. But that's not helping anyone now, he said.

Myth: Those who use diesel fuel are immune from high gasoline costs.

What's really happening: Diesel fuel prices are surging as well right now, with the average price at $4.14 per gallon for diesel fuel, according to latest figures from the United States Energy Information.

The surge in prices is in contrast to previous years, Carroll County Public Schools Transportation Director Michael Hardesty said. The price of diesel fuel tended to go down as school years neared their conclusion and summer approached.

Not so this year, and it's affecting the cost to transport students. Every two weeks, the transportation department obtains the price of diesel fuel from 12 different fueling stations representing all areas of Carroll County. An average price is determined.

School bus contractors are compensated for each mile traveled based on a formula using the average price.

Myth: Gas prices will hit $5 per gallon this summer

What's really happening: That's the doomsday scenario, said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Ragina Averella. AAA is expecting gas prices to average $3.75-$4.25 this spring.

The Energy Information Administration expects the retail price to peak in May at $3.96 per gallon.

Myth: Local mass transit use is increasing due to gas prices

What's really happening: The Carroll Area Transit System has seen an increase of registered riders this year, CATS Executive Director Lousie Tinkler said. But the increase in riders has not come during ramp ups in gas prices.

Tinkler credited the increase to a more efficient system and improved promotions and communications for the increase in riders, which came after an increase in rider prices approved last December by the Carroll County Board of Commissioners.

Myth: Buying gas at a certain time of day saves money

What's really happening: That's false, Avarella said. Running the air conditioning in a car does not affect gas mileage either, she said.

The best way to help is by changing driving styles. Instead of making quick starts and sudden stops, AAA recommends going easy on the gas and brake pedals. Coast up to red lights and gently accelerate rather than making a quick start. It's one way to possibly save money in a time when gas prices are surging once more.