Gas highs don't benefit station owners

Pumping gas in San Francisco, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

Stacey Vanek-Smith: Oil prices are up a bit this morning, hovering around $120 a barrel. They're still nearly 20 percent lower than they were at their peak last month. And drivers are getting a break: AAA says gas is now averaging about $3.86 a gallon. That's still a lot more than it was last year, which means gas station owners are making a killing, right? Wrong. Marketplace's Alisa Roth has more.


Carlos: We just make it. End of month to pay the expenses, salary, taxes, and . . .

Alisa Roth: Carlos manages this Mobil station in Queens -- which, looking at all the big cars filling their tanks, you'd think would be pulling in millions.

Carlos: . . . $4.65 for super, $4.55 special and $439 for regular.

Multiply any of those numbers by a couple of tankfuls and, well, it seems like a lot of money. Except it's just not.

Carlos: People driving less. People take the public transportation.

It's a tough time to be a gas station owner. I know, it costs more every time you fill up your tank. But record high prices means it costs owners more to fill the pumps. They say profit margins haven't moved.

Paul Fiore directs the Service Station Dealers of America. It's an umbrella group of gas station owners associations.

Paul Fiore: Unfortunately, the idea in most retail of a percentage-based markup never really took hold.

Gas station owners say they're still only making a dime or 12 cents on every gallon they sell. And because people are driving less, stations are selling less gas.

There's another problem, too: more people are using credit cards to pay for gas. Nobody really wants to drive around with $75 in cash. And the credit card lets them put off paying for awhile.

The problem for gas station owners is that credit card fees are calculated as a percentage of the purchase. Which means they're making even less money on each gallon they sell.

Paul Fiore says the only way to survive is to branch out, by buying more gas stations, or offering more services at the ones you already have.

Fiore: I feel very, very sorry for anybody who's just doing gasoline with no other sales right now.

But Carlos says at his gas station, even that's not enough. Besides the pumps, he's got a service station, a tow truck, and a convenience store. He says times are so tough, they're even counting the quarters from the air pump and the vacuums.

In Whitestone, New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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