THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Gas fuming: Why a gallon costs less in Richmond than here

Is there anyone who watched the price of gasoline jump this past summer from a few bucks a gallon to, in some places, nearly five dollars per gallon, and didn't think to themselves that we're all getting taken for a ride?

As for by whom, well, take your pick: OPEC, greedy oil companies, Wall Street speculators, everyone in the Bush/Cheney Administration, or just the gas station owner taking advantage of the situation to gouge the public.

Mary Atkinson sure has. Atkinson is an artist and painter who has lived in Charlottesville for about 13 years. Atkinson raised her three daughters in Richmond, and one still lives there with several children of her own. So Atkinson is back and forth quite a bit to visit her grandkids.

That is how she came to notice over the last several weeks that gasoline seems to cost a lot more here in Charlottesville– at times at least 50 cents per gallon more, by her reckoning– than it does in Richmond. 

That convinced Atkinson that price manipulation was happening. Atkinson is originally from Brooklyn, New York, and while living in the Old Dominion for many years may have faded her accent and her call-it-as-she-sees-it attitude, it hasn't eliminated it.

"It's baloney," she says. "I was upset." 

The price difference when I checked last Friday was not as substantial as Atkinson says she noticed a few weeks ago, but it was significant. For example, according to the website, a gallon of regular could be had at an Exxon station located in Richmond for $1.93. The cheapest station in Charlottesville, a Texaco, sold a gallon for $2.19, and the cheapest Exxon gasoline was $2.32.

Mark Finley, who owns a service station in town, is puzzled by the discrepancy as well.

"I can't explain it either," he said, although he noted that Richmond is a supply point where tankers pick up gasoline from a pipeline, and there were likely additional transportation costs associated with getting gasoline to Charlottesville.

One Hook reader notes that, with a typical tanker truck carrying 9,000 gallons and with Charlottesville gas going for 25 cents more per gallon, it appears that each truck is earning $2,250 for a one-hour drive. When gas is 50 cents more, it looks like a $4,500 profit per truck.

Nice work if you can get, but Charlottesville's top retailer says there's nothing fishy going on. Transportation is only part of the explanation, according to David Sutton, president of gasoline distributor Tiger Fuel. He says transportation adds only about a nickel per gallon.

The main reason for the price difference, Sutton explains, is slower inventory turnover in Charlottesville as compared to a more crowded urban area like Richmond.

The wholesale price of fuel changes at least once, sometimes twice per day, according to Sutton. When a station owner buys, say at $2 per gallon, that price will be the biggest factor in determining the retail price he must charge to eke out a profit.

When the wholesale price of gasoline rises and falls, therefore, those changes may not be reflected in a particular station's retail price immediately. In more populated places like Richmond, Sutton says, there is faster turnover of gasoline at the stations, so prices more closely reflect the current wholesale price.

As a result, Sutton says, when wholesale prices are dropping, then retail prices will fall faster, which is what Charlottesville consumer Atkinson has been noticing in this autumn of falling prices. (On the other hand, Sutton notes, when wholesale prices are climbing, they will rise faster in a quick inventory turnover area like Richmond.)

Sutton attributes the fact that we don't fully appreciate this current benefit of living in Charlottesville to the "consumer's short term memory." As for the price of gasoline generally, Sutton says it's still dropping, so the differential between here and Richmond is likely to continue.

Sutton's explanation made sense to Atkinson, who explains part of the reason for her initial question was, "I want to understand the whole world before I die."

Atkinson says she waits until she makes a trip to Richmond to fill her tank. That strategy may continue to save her money for at least a little while longer.


Got a consumer situation? Call the Hook newsroom at 434-295-8700x405 or e-mail the Tough Customer directly.



I continue to find it difficult to understand any reason given thus far on the need for Charlottesville gas prices to be "out of bounds" on most days of the month. While traveling to south central Pennsylvania on September 11, we left town and returned to town within a twelve hour period to gas prices that had been hiked up fifty cents in the City of Charlottesville in that twelve hour period. While in Front Royal as we travel on Rt. 522 for part of the trip the gas prices going and coming were fifty cents lower and did not jump. This past week-end we traveled to Pennsylvania going through Front Royal again and on the way up we paid $2.08 going up on Saturday, November 1, and returning on Sunday, November 2, we paid $2.03 at the same Exxon station. We could have stopped at a couple of the off brand stations who were advertising $1.94...also in Front Royal as well as a Texaco station who was under $2.00 as well. Needless to say, we filled up both ways in Front Royal. Charlottesville is known for their high gasoline prices and there is no reasonable answer thus far for why this is allowed to continue. I would think that they would want to do better by their citizens and visitors to this area.

Why is this more important than exposing the fact that the City government of Charlottesville is deliberately adding toxic waste to the public water supply at a concentration that, if consumed since conception, has been scientifically demonstrated to reduce IQ by twenty points and to actually crystallize the pineal gland in the brain (sodium fluoride/hydrofluosilicic acid).
Are we to pretend that the Nazi's didn't write about how they added fluoride to the water of their prisoners to make them docile and subservient, and recommended that entire populations be given fluoride in their water and told it was good for children's teeth so that they could dumb down entire countries and conquer them by the use of propaganda that only someone who had not been given an IQ reduction of at least twenty points could recognize as propaganda and reject as such? OR ARE WE TO EXPOSE THE DEMONIC ENTITIES POSING AS HUMAN BEINGS WHO ARE DOING THIS AND SEND THEM BACK TO WHERE THEY CAME FROM?! ANSWER: ANYONE WHO PUTS KNOWINGLY PUTS FLUORIDE IN THE WATER THAT PEOPLE DRINK AND TELLS THEM IT'S GOOD FOR THEM KNOWING THAT IT IS POISON (AND NOW YOU KNOW) DESERVES TO BE KILLED AND I HOPE THEY GET WHAT THEY DESERVE. IT'S MORE ABOUT PROTECTING THE CHILDREN THAN IT IS ABOUT EXECUTING JUSTICE. BUT JUSTICE AND PEACE GO HAND IN HAND. GET OFF THE FLUORIDE, GET YOUR KIDS OFF THE FLUORIDE - THAT INCLUDES THE TOOTHPASTE -, AND NEVER VACCINATE YOUR CHILD. WWW.INFOWARS.COM

I have to agree that Charlottesville prices are way out of line with most of central Virginia. I travel occasionally between Richmond, Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Waynesboro. ANYONE going between these cities will notice at least a .30 increase in price in Charlottesville. I'm sorry but the "pipe line, turnover" excuses don't hold water. The fact is Charlottesville is seen as a wealthier town and is prime territory for easy money by David Sutton and the rest of management at Tiger Fuel. Why does McDonalds sell the "Big Mac" at the same price everywhere? The problem is NOT pipelines, or turnover or anything else. The problem is Tiger fuel in Charlottesville, bleed em dry guys and move on to the next town that will believe your lies.

All I know is they fall a lot slower than they rise! If the wind blows in the Gulf of Mexico or a shot is fired in the Middle East, gas prices are way up the next day.

Why does anyone think a business should sell anything for less than it can get for it?

The excuses and explanations are odd in that they're entirely unnecessary. They can set the price as they wish.

Hmmmm, interesting. I guess we should all just roll over and except it, after all we wouldn't want to complain would we? Sheep or Shepherds?

Go before the local government to complain. The City council and BOS should advocate for cheaper prices for the people. Many are not wealthy in this area. I say local governments should call a meeting with Tiger fuel to prompt a change. The oil company should be embarrassed as they rake in the cash in this economy!

I also travel through out the state on a weekly bases and Charlottesville gas is always the highest I see in the state. The local government should look into why the price per gallon is higher and do so sooner than later. I have seen a 22 cent per gallon difference between Charlottesville and gas stations near 33 and Ruckersville. What I also do is fill up when I’m out of Charlottesville which could be as little as 10 to 15 minutes out of town and I don’t buy anything at locations that have there fuel prices set so high rather it be a snack or a drink they obviously don’t need my hard earned dollar.

Why is Waynesboro (further from Richmond, lower population) so much cheaper than C'ville then? $1.87 today (Nov 8).

The lowest gas prices reported in Charlottesville right now are 1.97 to 2.07 a gallon

Richmond's lowest prices are currently 1.84 to 1.87 a gallon.

I'm not sure what some of you are still whining about. Based on 12 miles per gallon highway, I guess I could burn 10 gallons driving to Richmond and back to purchase 44 gallons to fill up my vehicle. I would spend almost $20.00 to get there, but I would save almost $6.00 at the Richmond prices. No thanks, I will let Tiger Fuel bring it to me.

You all should be thanking Tiger Fuel for keeping fresh gas circulating throughtout the city and county as well as they do!

"...according to David Sutton, president of gasoline distributor Tiger Fuel. He says transportation adds only about a nickel per gallon.

The main reason for the price difference, Sutton explains, is slower inventory turnover in Charlottesville as compared to a more crowded urban area like Richmond."

Hmmm, what about Fork Union?, What about Waynesboro?, Staunton,Harrisonburg. Let's face it...anywhere except here!!! The ONE common denominator for out of line prices seems to be TIGER FUEL, right Mr. Sutton? How was your strip steak and Chardonnay this evening? My mac and cheese was good, thanks for asking!!!

Sick Of The Local Rambos, I didn't know they still made vehicles that only got 12 mpg and had a 44gal fuel tank. Ohhh, wait, do you have a Hummer? Well, then, that explains why you don't mind paying more then anyone else. However, not all who walk these hollowed streets can afford the steed you're riding or to feed it, so for the rest of us, money is an issue. Oh, and the only thing I'll thank Tiger for is if they give me Vaseoline with my next fill up. Have you ever been anywhere in this country where there wasn't a distributor? If Tiger weren't here I guarantee another distributor would be before you noticed. Granted, the prices are coming around to being more in line than they were. If we all accepted what we consider unfairness, there never would have been a USA. Thanks all for dissenting, it is our right.

No, I am not a Hummer fan.

Let's do a different scenario just for the sport of it. Let's say you have a car getting 40 mpg highway driving. And it has a 14 gallon gas tank. You would be in worse shape than I am. It would take you 3 gallons to get to Richmond and back, or $6.00. And your fill up in Richmond, 14 gallons, will save you perhaps $2.00. It'a still a no win with a fuel efficient vehicle. Spend $6.00 to save $2.00?

And yes, prices are coming around to being more in line than they were! That's my point, what's everybody still whining about?

Sick, We better whine, because the next crises will come along. Tiger Fuel will sock it to us again another day, if we don't demand change. I say Boycott Tiger Fuel and any others who take advantage of folks!

Oh yes Plop, you can bet the next crisis will most definitely come along, sooner than later. And you can expect gas prices to go past the last $4.00 a gallon.

The question is ..... how do we effectively boycott Tiger Fuel at that time?

Complaining is fine, if useless. Unless there is illegal activity (and I've seen none alleged) on what basis would any government intervene?

Demand change....what on earth are you writing about?

There are ways to firmly call for change. Embarrassing a business owner can certainly bring on change. Making matters public, as the HOOK has successfully mastered is also very effective. An idea:Walk the road carrying signs in front of the stations. No one believes they have crossed a legal line. How about the moral line? Holding prices this high in a time of economic crises frankly stinks. It would be appropriate for good local government leaders to call for improvement for our area. Oh, but there is the piece where they are hesitant to step on toes.

Plop, here's the problem - there is nothing you or anyone else can do to convince me to drive out of town to purchase gasoline. I's just not cost efficient and I don't have the time either. And I suspect 99% of the local population would agree with me on this. And you can bet the "tree huggers" don't care if gas costs $10 a gallon, they would probably bake brownies for David Sutton and the rest of the Tiger Fuel employees.

Sick, You make good points concerning the issues of time constraints and distance. Sutton knows he has a market. He is lining his pockets and hurting many fellow citizens as he marks prices too high. We all know there is no real reason for this other than greed.

I just received the personal property taxes on all my vehicles. They have 2 of them assessed at more than I could ever possibly sell them for. What's even more interesting, they have the same 2 assessed at more than I actually paid for them. This doesn't mean I got a good deal on them when I purchased them. It means one has a V-8 gass guzzler and one has a V-10 gas guzzler, and the recent gas prices have ruined their actual and real market value no matter what some used car guide the city uses to appraise them says they are worth. They also have my home assessed at a minimum of $50,000 more than I can sell it for right now. As an idividual, I can't do a thing about any of this except pay what they have requested. And if I don't pay, penalties and interest start accumulating. Now if everybody refused to pay these ridiculous overinflated assessments on vehicles and real estate, we could get somewhere very quickly and very easily. But the masses do not have the backbone to unite and stand up to the local governments raping them.

What's my point? The same is true of Tiger Fuel.

Sick, You are absolutely correct. Most people don't have the time, energy, or guts to fight these issues. Articles such as this do light a fire and provide needed education.

Well folks how about $1.79 in Richmond today ? Yeehawwwww, BP station at Belvedere and Broad St. Wonder how long before Mr. Sutton falls in line?

This still doesn't explain why it is now $.30 cheaper in Waynesboro and Staunton (June, 2010). This article would make you believe since it's further from the source it should me more expensive.

Most of the Winter and Spring the difference was about $.10, but lately the prices have gone down $.60 in Waynesboro and are very slow to fall here.