Gasoline price analysis finds super premium price paid for regular gas at some Vineyard pumps
During 60 months between 2003 and 2008, Islanders paid a handsome premium, averaging 56 cents for regular gasoline, at four Island fuel retailers. That's compared with the cost of regular gas sold at stations on Cape Cod. Only 21 of the 56 cents, or 38 percent, can be accounted for by the high cost of doing business on the Vineyard, according to data assembled and analyzed by Frank M. Gollop, an economics professor at Boston College.
The plaintiffs in a civil suit filed first in Dukes County Superior Court in 2007, charging several Vineyard gasoline retailers with fixing fuel prices, hired Mr. Gollop as an expert witness on their behalf. He concluded, and reported in a March 2009 affidavit, that on average, 62 percent of the price difference between Vineyard gasoline prices and prices on the Cape is not accounted for or justified by higher business costs for the Vineyard retailers. The data analyzed by Mr. Gollop comes from state and federal sources that keep track of local and regional gasoline prices as well as cost of living data, and from documents submitted by defendants during discovery in preparation for trial.
Both the plaintiff's original August 2007 complaint and Frank M. Gollop's affidavit are available here.
The average unjustified premium, according to Mr. Gollop, was between 27 and 38 cents a gallon, or about 12 percent of the cost of a gallon of gasoline priced to the consumer at $2.77.
Consumer complaints about the high cost of gasoline on the Vineyard have been common and frequent for decades. Motorists complain that perhaps a margin of some sort is justified by the cost of transportation to the Island for gasoline and other fuels, but that the actual margin, comparing Island fuel prices to prices off-Island but nearby, is extraordinarily high. Mr. Gollop's data defines the margin over the period he studied on behalf of the plaintiffs in the 2007 lawsuit, now in federal court.
Legal action began in 2007
In early August 2007, a pair of experienced trial lawyers, one of whom is a seasonal Edgartown resident, filed a class-action lawsuit in Dukes County Superior Court against two gas wholesalers and three retailers. In their 27-page complaint, Michael Roitman and Stephen Schultz, lawyers with the Boston firm of Engel & Schultz, said that the defendants unfairly fixed the price of gasoline, gouged consumers who purchased gasoline, and engaged in unfair price gouging in 2005 after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The defendants in the case are R.M. Packer Company, Drake Petroleum Company, Depot Corner gas station, and Francis J. Paciello, owner of Edgartown Mobil and Depot Corner. The four gas stations whose data was analyzed by Mr. Gollop are Tisbury Extra Mart, owned by Drake Petroleum; Tisbury Shell, owned by the Packer Company; and Depot Corner Service Station and Edgartown Mobil, both owned by Mr. Paciello or by Mr. Paciello and his wife. Three gasoline retailers on Cape Cod were used by Mr. Gollop for comparison, one in Falmouth, one in Hyannis, and one in Provincetown.
There are nine gasoline dealers on the Vineyard. DeBettencourt Mobil and Jim's Fuel Station, both in Oak Bluffs; Airport Fuel Services in Edgartown; Up-Island Automotive in West Tisbury; and Menemsha Texaco in Chilmark are not defendants in the lawsuit.