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Owners of expensive gas stations confronted; explanations for wide variations in gas prices

10:26 PM, May 18, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA, Fla. - Whether you blame the volatility in gas prices on politics, speculators, or basic economics, the volatility from one neighborhood station to another is often tougher to explain.

Even as prices fall sharply in the Tampa Bay area, some gas stations have hesitated to drop their prices significantly.

The 10 News Investigators took tough questions to owners of expensive gas stations in Tampa Bay, who - without exception - refused to address why their prices were so much higher than nearby competitors.

Ned Bowman, Executive Director of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, says gas stations are struggling too with the expensive cost of fuel and they try to remain as competitive as possible.

"We make more money on a cup of coffee when a person comes in than we do on a 12-gallon fill-up," Bowman said, adding that gas stations are the only stores that disclose the cost of their product out on the street for consumers to see.

Bowman couldn't address why gas stations that may thrive on tourist traffic, such as airports and interstates, often charge more.

The 10 News Investigators have compiled some tips for consumers to try and find the cheapest gasoline in your area.

Don't buy gas near an airport: Prices are usually higher at stations around the airports because they are trying to get drivers desperate to fill up their rental cars on tight schedules.

Don't buy gas near interstates or long bridges: Airport-area stores, gas stations that thrive on the unprepared or desperate driver have little reason to drop their prices quickly.

Taxes vary by county: If you have a choice of which county to buy gas in, pay attention to the tax rates. In Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties, gas taxes add up to 48.3 cents per gallon. In Hernando County, it's 50.4 cents per gallon. You'll pay 53.4 cents per gallon in Sarasota, Manatee, Polk, Highlands, Hardee, and Citrus counties.

Look for competitive clusters: Neighborhoods with multiple gas stations on the same block will often find the cheapest gas since the stores drop prices more frequently to compete with each other.

Avoid gas-only stations: Since gas stations can make more money from sales inside the store than at the gas pump, gas stations with large stores will often offer discounted gas to get you inside.

Pay Cash: Many stores now charge higher prices for customers paying with credit because of "swipe fees," so before you commit to a station, look to see if their advertised price comes with the stipulation you pay cash. The difference must be noted on the sign as the cash price.

Keep in mind that Florida is the third largest gas market in the country behind Texas and California and ultimately, competition is the only thing that drops gas prices, so it sometimes takes a while.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Send your story tips to noah@wtsp.com.

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