ATHENS, Ohio (WCMH) — People in Athens are fuming over fuel prices.
Multiple viewers in Athens asked NBC4 Investigates why gas prices are so much higher in their area when compared to other parts of Ohio, which have seen record-high prices go down in recent weeks.
According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in Ohio is $4.47. In the Columbus metro area, the average price is $4.23, which is on par with the $4.24 average in the Cleveland area. The average is $4.55 in the Ohio side of the Cincinnati area.
NBC4’s Gas Tracker shows every station in Athens charging $4.99 for a gallon of regular gas.
Leah Taylor said lately, she’s been driving from Athens to Logan after work to fuel her Toyota Camry, instead of filling up down the street during her lunch break. The drive to Logan is about a half-hour each way, she said, but she saves at least $10 per tank.
“For me, I’d just rather spend my money where it’s cheaper than to come here where I’m getting price gouged,” Taylor said. “It makes me feel angry to see that everywhere else is getting a little bit of relief, and we are still being made to struggle.”
Patrick De Haan, a fuel price analyst with GasBuddy.com, said what’s happening in Athens is not necessarily price gouging.
“They didn’t raise prices to this level without having a reason for it; that is, wholesale prices did go up enough for them to have to raise their prices,” De Haan explained. “What they’re doing now is simply not passing along the decreases.”
Still, De Haan considered the pricing practices in Athens to be unethical.
“It’s extremely frustrating, as somebody who likes to see lower gas prices and advocates on behalf of gas stations,” he said. “It’s unjustifiable, what these stations are doing and holding their prices up.”
De Haan said the gas prices in Athens are fueled by a lack of competition.
“There’s just not enough stations,” he said. “Nobody really wants to be the price leader in town, everyone just sitting at the same price.”
Consumers can push back, according to De Haan. He recommends Taylor’s strategy of fulling up in nearby cities with less expensive gas, or only purchasing a gallon or two at a time in Athens.
“If these stations in Athens started doing no business and not selling gasoline, that’s what it would take for them to start lowering prices,” he said.
When gas station employees in Athens were asked how they set prices, most said they didn’t know.
One manager, who was not allowed to speak on camera, said they check prices at the other stations in town and report those numbers to corporate ownership, which then sets their prices.
Corporate owners of Athens gas stations did not respond to questions about pricing practices. NBC4 also left contact information with employees at locally run gas stations in Athens but have not heard from the owners of those stations.