Charles Langley says it's profitable for gas station owners to keep their prices high long after the cost of fuel dropped. That, he says, may explain why drivers haven't felt the same relief at the pump that retailers have. Lolita Lopez reports from Burbank for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Oct. 19, 2012.
Earlier this month, it took only a few days for gas prices to jump 50 cents nearly overnight. Two weeks later, prices are falling, but not as steeply as LA motorists had hoped and they want to know what’s taking so long.
Trudy Keck lets her tank hit empty before she returns to the pump.
Mai Vo will try just about anything to find the cheapest gas. She needs to, considering she travels from her home in Pasadena to two jobs – one of them in Orange County.
“I actually go down to OC to fill up because it’s cheaper there,” Vo said.
The average price for a gallon of self-serve regular in the state was $4.514 on Friday. That’s a 13.1-cent drop since last week, when the average price hit $4.645, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
A refinery fire in Northern California, a power outage at a plant in Torrance and panic-buying among retailers were blamed, in part, for the dramatic spike in fuel costs earlier this month when gas station owners were forced to buy more expensive fuel.
"A lot of these dealers have very expensive gas in their tanks that they have to move out before they can replace it with cheaper gas," said Charles Langley, with Utility Consumers Action Network.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 8 ordered air quality regulators to allow refineries to start producing and selling the less expensive fuel used in the state during the winter, ahead of schedule. After that, wholesale prices dropped dramatically, but drivers haven't felt the relief.
How fast stations replace their pricey summer-grade gasoline with a less expensive winter blend is up to the owners.
"We see prices go quickly because it can be very profitable for the industry and they go down slowly because that's even more profitable," Langley said.
NBC4 on Friday went to a Burbank gas station, one of the most expensive stations in the city, according to GasBuddy.com, and saw very limited customers.
A few blocks away, at Lankershim Boulevard and Riverside Drive, regular gasoline was selling for 44 cents less, and there was a line.
Same thing at the HWB Car wash on Burbank Boulevard, where drivers paid $4.25 in cash for a gallon of regular self-serve fuel, $4.35 with credit.