For the past seven years, Rick Morgan has made the trek from Squamish to Burnaby five days a week.
Morgan estimated he’s spent close to $40,000 on fuel alone to travel to work and he understands it’s the price he has to pay to live in Squamish. But it doesn’t stop him from keeping a keen eye on gas price trends and he told The Chief he thinks something fishy has been going on at the local pumps for far too long.
An industry expert, though, said that while he believes those concerned about prices can help change the situation by complaining, there’s no conspiracy going on — just competition.
Morgan used to fill up regularly at one particular station in town. However, when the Porteau Cove slide closed Highway 99 in 2008, the station raised its prices more than 20 cents per litre. At that point he told the station’s employees he would never buy gas there again.
He said he moved on to the two Petro-Canada/7-Eleven stations, but recent price fluctuations there had him scratching his head.
“I recognized a pattern over the past couple of weeks,” he said earlier this spring. “The Garibaldi store realizes that commuters usually gas up in the morning and are in a hurry, so the price is changed at night from 1.29.9 to 1.34.9 and back to 1.29.9 during the day.”
Morgan documented the price changes with pictures and sent inquiries to Petro-Canada that fell on deaf ears.
“I watch the prices carefully because I buy so much gas,” he said. “I know what the prices are in the city and when they are the same in Squamish, I ask why at the gas station, but they are just clerks and shrug. We’re being ripped off and it pisses me off.”
A local resident who used to work in the oil industry said he sympathizes with Morgan’s plight and said Squamish residents can make a difference if they really want to.
The man — who spoke on condition of anonymity because he didn’t want to jeopardize his employment — said the big companies will listen to complaints if people make themselves heard.
“We see these prices because we don’t make enough of a stink,” he said. “We’re a captive market and they know that. We should be complaining about this.”
He said Morgan’s points about price changes are valid, but that it’s not any type of conspiracy. It’s simply competition.
“There’s not really a lot of meat to that theory,” he said of the different-prices-at-different-times-of-the-day argument. “It’s mostly just competition. Gas stations want to drive volume through their stations and lowering prices compared to competition does that. But everyone is watching their competition’s prices so they try to match — it’s a race to the bottom. People just resent buying gas because it’s a necessity for us.”
He noted that the big oil companies make very slim margins off of the retail side, but that Squamish residents should make their voices heard if they want to see change.
“Go into the store and let them know their prices are too high,” he said.
The situation hasn’t changed significantly since The Chief reported on the topic in February 2012.
It’s about an 8.5-cent difference between the price of a litre of gas in Squamish and in the Lower Mainland, but the expert said the difference should be larger. TransLink receives 17 cents in taxes from every litre of gas sold in the Lower Mainland, but Squamish doesn’t have TransLink service and the tax is not applied to local gas prices.
“There’s the TransLink tax in the city, but we don’t get that benefit of any transit out here,” he said. “Until we get that benefit it’s not an argument — the prices should be lower. Other than the cost of getting the gas to Squamish, which is approximately two cents a litre, we should be paying a lot less without those taxes.”
Morgan said he was disappointed with the response he received from Petro-Canada and 7-Eleven and told The Chief he is now filling up at Shell.
“After I sent them all my information, I got an email back from Petro-Canada forwarding me to their frequently-asked-questions section of their website,” he said. “And 7-Eleven, well, I haven’t heard back from them after sending them my pictures. They could give a s---. They have a monopoly. We have to buy gas, the only other thing we could do is drive around with diesel and cooking oil, but that’s a whole different topic.”
The oil industry expert said prices do tend to rise in the summer, but it’s hard to predict whether gasoline will reach the $1.50-per-litre mark. In the meantime, he reiterated an earlier assertion that if Squamoleans make enough noise, there could be changes at the pump.