If you drove into a service station in Caracas, Venezuela, you could fill your tank, hand over a $5 bill (or its equivalent in bolivares) and get $2 back in change.
But if you tried using that same $5 bill (or its value in yen) in Tokyo, you'd end up with only a little over a gallon of gas.
While gasoline prices vary greatly worldwide, the price in most countries has fallen since the Persian Gulf war, according to a recent study of 18 cities by Runzheimer International, a management consultant company that specializes in transportation issues.
Although Baltimore was not one of the cities studied by Runzheimer, a fill-up here is a lot closer to the low end of the worldwide scale than to the high side.
PD The average price of regular unleaded gas at a self-service pump
here was $1.14 last month, compared with $1.43 in December 1990, when the United States was preparing for the gulf war, according to the AAA Automobile Club of Maryland.
"Compared to the rest of the world, gas is a bargain in the U.S.," Peter D. Packard, a spokesman for Rochester, Wis.-based Runzheimer, said yesterday. "The U.S. has some of the cheapest gas in the world."
One reason, he said, is that the U.S. is an oil-producing nation. "If we weren't, we would be in the same situation as Japan -- our prices would be sky high."
In Washington, which was one of two cities Runzheimer surveyed in the United States, the average was $1.16 a gallon last month, down 22 percent from $1.47 a gallon a year earlier. Gasoline prices in Atlanta, the other U.S. city surveyed, fell more than 22 percent, to 98 cents a gallon last month.
"Nobody knows, or can even guess, what might have happened to gas prices if Iraq had remained in Kuwait," Neill Krupp, vice president of Runzheimer's International Division, said in a statement. "Basically, oil prices are quite stable at this time, and there is plentiful supply in the pipeline."
But he cautioned that many factors influence the price of oil and the situation could change overnight.
Although prices fell more than 18 percent in Canada over the 12-month period, motorists in Toronto were still paying the equivalent of $1.74 a gallon. Mr. Packer said the price is higher in Canada primarily because of higher taxes.
Mexico City was one of five locations included in the survey where gas prices have risen since the war. Motorists there were paying $1.35 a gallon last month, 48 percent more than a year earlier. Mr. Packer said that the Mexican government had subsidized fuel prices in the past but is currently letting the price rise to the free-market level.