Cheaper gas may be coming

LIHU’E – Kaua’i gasoline dealers, as weary as consumers are of continually

rising gas prices, are hoping increased Middle East oil production and

decreased mainland demand will lead to lower gas prices later this

year.

Customers at the pump, though, are skeptical to downright angry. They

say gas station owners should bite a bit more of the bullet instead of passing

all price increases onto consumers.

The price of gas “shot up by 50 cents

(a gallon) in no time, and it just stayed there,” said Roger Sasaki, who drives

to both ends of the island at least once a week delivering janitorial

supplies.

His weekly gas bill is $40, and his company’s gas allowance

doesn’t cover his expenses, he said.

“Me, I think it’s more of a case of

price-fixing,” with all the dealers getting together to set a profitable price,

Sasaki said.

He said when dealer costs go down, there should be a

corresponding reduction in the price. But he feels local dealers know they can

get the higher pump price by simply passing on the higher prices they must pay

their suppliers.

But Glen Konishi, of Gary’s Service Inc., a Chevron dealer

on Kuhio Highway in Lihu’e, said he can’t remember the last time his supplier

lowered the price he pays for a gallon of fuel.

Sasaki, of Kapa’a, has

equipped his business van with truck tires to improve fuel efficiency, and like

many drivers is taking other steps to try to reduce the high cost of

driving.

His family once operated a trucking company, which used diesel

fuel at a time diesel cost around one-fourth of the cost of unleaded gasoline.

Now, diesel costs more than regular gas, and Sasaki can’t imagine

why.

“What’s going on?” he wondered.

Sasaki figures the island’s

trucking companies are hurting from escalating diesel fuel costs.

“Locals

want kama’aina discount,” said one man, an owner of a landscape company with

three trucks. Yesterday in Lihu’e, it cost him $69 to top off his work truck’s

tank, and before he started fueling it was one-fourth full.

The mainland

and other islands have reduced pump prices, “but why not here? Gas prices could

be cheaper,” said the small-businessman, claiming that station owners could

probably survive while taking a bit less profit per gallon.

A little over a

week ago, prices dealers pay suppliers for gas went up two cents on all grades,

said Konishi. “So the latest trend is still upward. It never went down,” he

said of fuel prices since before the start of summer.

Prices would go up,

sometimes stay the same for a few weeks, then go up again, he

explained.

People complain at the pumps about what seems to be the

ever-rising price of gas, Konishi said, “because the price has gone up so much.

But I’m looking for the prices to start going down.” But not until November or

December, he cautioned.

He is hoping a drop in demand associated with the

end of the summer vacation driving season nationwide will mean an easing of

pump prices.

“I hope so. It’s supposed to,” he said. “Theoretically, it’s

supposed to happen.”

On Monday, prices for a gallon of regular unleaded

gasoline on Kaua’i hovered right around $2 a gallon at various stations, with

premium between $2.24 to $2.28 a gallon.

That’s a drop in the tank, though,

compared to what rental-car companies are allowed to charge customers who

choose to fill up at the companies’ pumps instead of returning the car full of

gas.

One rental-car company manager, who did not want his name or company

name used, confirmed that the state Public Utilities Commission allows

rental-car companies to charge up to 1.5 times the local average pump

price.

Under the commission calculation method, the prices at five service

stations close to the airport are averaged. The rental-car companies can charge

up to 1.5 times that average. The pump price at most rental-car companies at

Lihu’e Airport last week was around $3.03, meaning the companies are taking

full advantage of the allowance.

Staff writer Paul C. Curtis can be

reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) and [

HREF=”mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net”>pcurtis@pulitzer.net]

(Photo by Dennis Fujimoto)

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