Saturday, 30 April 2011

Gas Prices at the Local "Gouge" Stations

So I went to get some gas yesterday and suddenly noticed a huge difference of price between some local gas stations (or should I rather say, "Gouge" Stations).  This in itself doesn't really surprise me, for the media has been talking about higher gas prices for a while now. I don't pretend to understand how this all works. They tell us that natural disasters in some parts of the world apparently play a part, as do situations of political unrest brought on by a rogue political leader in some third world country. I get that, sort of.

The problem I have is reading about such things and then at the same time hearing about how the major oil companies are reporting record profits. Excuse me? Record profits? Am I missing something here? So which is it? Are our high gas prices caused by environmental and political issues, or by the unscrupulous gouging of the CEO's of the major oil companies? The answer is probably that both equally have a part to play. For the purpose of this article, however, I intend to focus only on the major oil companies.

Have you ever noticed how, regardless of global environmental or political issues, every spring prices seem to go up? Just when the weather starts to get warmer and people begin to think of some vacation time, the oil companies seem to think that they can make a few more quick dollars and so they begin to raise gas prices at the pumps yet again. At least, that it the perception of many people, myself included. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracist (which I'm really not), could it all be a part of the rich upper class oil companies plan to further eradicate the middle class? The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class rapidly finds itself becoming extinct. Ah, but that's the joys (or perhaps better, "evils") of a capitalistic society. But I digress; we'll leave that topic alone for another time.

To further illustrate this gouging of the major oil companies, one needs only to look at who raises the gas prices first. Here in our small city of Lethbridge, most gas stations were advertising prices of $1.17 per litre (already far too high). As of yesterday, two major companies saw fit to raise their prices significantly higher. Esso raised their prices to $1.24 per litre, and Shell raised their prices to $1.30 per litre. This is a $0.13 difference within a few blocks of each other. How do we account for that? I realize that those prices may still be cheaper than some parts of the country, but my purpose isn't to discuss what causes regional differences in fuel prices.

When the local gas station gets a delivery of fuel, they get invoiced based on current market prices. I understand that. What I don't understand, is how they can justify raising the price with older fuel in their tanks that was already paid for at a lower rate. That's a double mark up in price, or double-dipping. That would be like any other business buying something wholesale, adding whatever percentage they deem necessary, and reselling the product at the new retail price, before finally raising the price yet again to reflect an even higher profit margin on their original purchase. There can be no other word for that but gouging. Then again, I suppose we could also use words like stealing, fraud or larceny. The worst thing, though, is the oil companies will deny doing any wrong. They will, if confronted, pass the buck and blame some other factor for the high prices. Then when they present their next quarterly or annual report, they will hope that you and I are too stupid to see the connection between higher pump prices and still more record profits!

For some time now my solution has been to keep a close eye of the advertised prices and notice which companies raise their prices first. It's always been the major companies who do this first, and never the little guys. Sure, eventually the little guys are pressured into following suit, but they never lead the attack. Those companies that tend to raise prices first, well, they will never see me as a customer.  It's my little boycott. Why should I support them when the only part of me they're interested in is the depth of my wallet?

What we need is to expand my little personal boycott and make at as national a boycott as possible. What we need is to get as many like-minded people on board as possible. What we need is to stop being lethargic about it all and start taking the boycott to where it begins to hurt their wallets like they've done to us. If enough of us start boycotting these major oil companies, maybe they will sit up and take notice. If enough of us do this, maybe we can get them on their knees crying "uncle" just like they've done to us. It's time to fight back!

A great tool to achieving such an end is the social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook. When we see a particular gas station with recently raised prices, let those on your social network stream of friends know. Then we who live in that area could join you in your boycott of that gas station. Word always travels fast, especially bad news. I see current gas prices as being a form of "bad news" that others need to be warned about. If I saw you walking down the street and noticed your wallet about to fall out of your back pocket, I would be quick to warn you. This is no different, except that the oil companies won't warn you that you're about to lose your wallet. Instead, they will wait until it actually falls out and then run with it. Social media is a great way for us to watch out for each other.

As for me, unless I absolutely have to, I will NEVER buy fuel at an Esso or Shell gas station again. If I do have to, it will only be a few dollars worth to tie me over until I can get to a smaller retailer, but never bless them with a fill up. That's my way of saying, "enough is enough," and I'm not going to play this game any more.

So what do you think? Just as it only takes a little spark to get a fire going, it also only takes a few local boycotters to get a national boycott going. Are you up for it?

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