AP: Gas Tops $3 in California; Locals Thank Sherlock Holmes for Update

Image of Gas Pump
Image of Gas Pump

The reality of Silicon Valley is that you need a car to get most places you'd actually need (or want) to get to on a regular basis.  This is unfortunate because other urban-suburban regions have shown that it's both possible and practical to have large scale mass transit. 

Boston, for example, has the amazingly interconnected T which seamlessly integrates its rail, subway, bus and boat system through everywhere from its Charles River neighbor Cambridge all the way out to "You Name It, Massachusetts"!

In contrast, the Silicon Valley equivalent is a myriad of public transportation silos which include the VTA, SamTrans, BART, MUNI, and ACE, among others.  The good folks at Google helped make sense of all the acronym soup by working with 511.org to create what I call the Silicon Valley Public Transportation Wizard.  It's essential for anyone hoping to get the most out of Bay Area public transport.

The other reality of our car-based culture is that gas is expensive in Silicon Valley.  I remember a time when I loved to take random drives with friends to Gilroy or Half Moon Bay at the spur of the moment, much like we might have taken the Green Line in Boston to Sunset Grill and Tap

That type of escapade has turned from pleasure to guilty pleasure and to add salt to the wound in our wallets, the Associated Press reports that gas prices have topped $3 in California.  (Locals driving down El Camino or in the City have seen this a few times.) 

So what can people do to ease the crunch?

Save Money by Using Less Gas

The government is actually bribing people to carpool and has hosted a website to make it easier to find other willing cohorts in this cunning plan to decrease the amount of your disposable income that goes into gasoline.

Get Closer to Public Transportation

There aren't the same incentives for you to use public transportation.  Admittedly, it's not always faster and more convenient, but there are ways to make it work for you instead of the other way around.

Many large companies offer shuttles to and from local stations and, if they don't, they might be persuaded by all the good vibes they get from the community and maybe even the media for helping take cars off the highway.

People I know have also moved within walking distance of the local CalTrain so that they can get up to San Francisco more easily without running through the speed trap by Candlestick Point or waiting out the bottleneck heading up the 101 every weekend.

Hunt for Cheaper Gas (But Don't Get Mad at the Station Owner)

Some time ago I looked into buying a gas station.  The reality of the business is that, no matter how expensive gas looks to you and me, the operators don't make very much money off any given gallon.

Oil companies often own the land the station is on and know how much each station should be worth to their bottom line.  Then, they calculate how much to charge the station for gas based on, effectively, how much they think they can get away with relative to their competition and demand.  The operator adds a few cents onto the price for their margin and hopes that you stop in for coffee or a car wash --- where they actually make money.  A lot of this money goes back into the land leased from the oil company.

If anything, the operator is getting squeezed just as much as the consumer is, with one subtlety.

Costco sells gasoline and because they purchase inventory on a more regular basis (and from multiple suppliers, just ask Lex from Survivor), they can more easily take advantage of price fluctuations (i.e. when the price drops, it usually drops at Costco first).  It's of note that their target margins are the same or a little higher than an average station, but their ability to sacrifice those margins is much, much higher.  Other stations will leave higher prices to linger for a little while so they can capture profits while the market adjusts.

There are also a number of web sites that let you compare gas prices around the area.  One such site is the aptly named SanJoseGasPrices.com or GasBuddy.com, where community members post what the gas prices are at various locations.