Sky-high Gas Prices Causing Financial Stress

Most of us need to stay on the road, but Insights West finds many are driving a bit less


One of my television rituals of spring is to watch local and national newscasts and wait for a story on gas prices.

The set-up usually begins with a quick shot of a three-digit number in a gas station, followed by an interview with an incensed motorist — preferably as he fills his car — who complains about the prices being too high. The story closes with the motorist shrugging away to the driver’s seat, and continuing his journey.

I’ve long been an enemy of the “streeter” as a way to generate colour for a story. As a person who makes a living by relying on representative samples of respondents, I have always found the practice particularly misleading. Maybe there are many people out there who think the prices are fair, and that the gas taxes are adequate.

Insights West recently conducted a survey of British Columbians to figure out of whether the feelings on gas prices that are so eloquently expressed to television reporters are prevalent. It turns out they are, but in more ways than we could have envisioned.

For starters, two thirds of the survey respondents acknowledge that price increases in gas have caused a financial hardship in their household. This is an issue that hits particularly hard during the unofficial start of summer, as some British Columbians start to drive more due to holidays or children being off school.

The animosity from British Columbians on issues related to gas prices touches several levels. About four in five describe the fuel taxes they pay as “unfair” and “too high,” and a similar proportion believes that governments have a vested interest in keeping gas prices high.

The notion of a veiled machination becomes even more manifest when British Columbians look at their fuel providers. A whopping 91 per cent think gas stations take advantage of motorists by hiking prices on long weekends. In addition, 81 per cent have noticed that, in our province, we tend to pay more for gas than those who live in other parts of Canada.

When compared with other conspiracies that Insights West has tested over the past few years, the proportion of British Columbians who allege collusion on gas prices is astonishingly high. Only about half of us think that UFOs exist, but when it comes to gas stations gouging the population, the proportion practically doubles.

So, British Columbians acknowledge a tough financial situation, continue to face the presumed need to drive a car, and have little choice on fuel providers, who are perceived as abusive. What are we doing about it?

More than half of respondents (55 per cent) are simply driving less than usual, while 38 per cent are adding fuel to their cars gradually, perhaps hoping for a cheaper price the next day to fill the tank all the way to the top. And 27 per cent say they are walking more than usual.

Still, most people continue to drive, either because they find other modes of transportation unsuitable or because they can afford the pump price.

Gas stations cannot really compete for motorists when the prices are very similar from one brand to the next, so British Columbians are looking at other traits when selecting a fuel provider.

When asked how they decide where to fill their cars, more than half of British Columbians (53 per cent) say they choose a specific gas station over another because of a reward or loyalty program. Receving points is a more powerful motivator for consumption than a gas station that is close to home or work (20 per cent) or simply filling when the indicator light starts blinking (10 per cent).

Judging by the way things have gone in the past decade, there will be little consumers can do to lower gas prices. Those who need their cars are already making the most of a bad situation, getting something out of their trips to the gas station in the form of points, or waiting for a better day to pump gas into their cars.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


Photograph: Mike Mozart