Gasoline prices are falling nationally, but people in the Buffalo Niagara region aren't exactly celebrating.
The reason: Gas prices here aren't dropping as fast as they are in other parts of the state, and they remain the highest among the state's eight metropolitan areas.
The average price here Tuesday was $3.38 per gallon, down 12.7 percent from a month ago, according to the AAA of Western and Central New York.
Rochester's average price over the past month was $3.28 -- nearly 14 percent lower.
Farther east, Albany's price has dropped 19 percent to just $3.00.
"It's ridiculous," griped Debra Sutton, a West Side home day care provider who has been leaving her car at home and taking a bus as much as possible because of expensive gas. "The only time I drive now is if I'm going to the grocery and I have a heavy load."
Sutton had been hopeful that the county or state would step in and reduce the taxes on gas to help bring down prices.
"I thought they were going to do something with taking off the tax," she said. "All that died . . . What are we going to do? Drive to Albany and back?"
But no one has a good explanation why we're paying more at the pump.
People who are supposed to be experts can't even give a good reason why Buffalo's prices are higher, or have declined at a slower rate, than other parts of New York State.
"It is a mystery," said Shaun Seufert, a spokesman for AAA. "It is unfortunate for consumers in Western New York. The price disparity is very great, especially in the state itself."
AAA has asked wholesalers and retailers for an explanation but hasn't come up with a good answer.
"We are hoping it is an anomaly that will work itself out soon," Seufert said, citing one answer the association has heard.
Joe D'Anna of Kenmore, who runs a book and snack shop at Key Center Plaza in downtown Buffalo, blames the state government for the out-of-whack prices.
"It's the state being greedy with the taxes," he said. "They're not going to cut us any slack at all . . . I think it stinks."
State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that his office was looking into complaints he has received about the price discrepancies to see whether anti-price-gouging laws may be applicable. But he said it is more likely a federal matter.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, announced that he has asked the Federal Trade Commission chairman to look into it.
"Your investigation into exactly why gasoline costs significantly more in the Buffalo area than it does in other upstate communities will assist me and my colleagues as Congress takes further action on gasoline prices next year and may uncover cause for the Federal Trade Commission to take enforcement action in the meantime," Higgins wrote in a letter to William Kovacic.
In his letter, Higgins mentioned a few theories arising from previous discussions about why Buffalo's gas prices are higher: the region's distance from oil refineries; differing local taxes and fees; and the amount of retail competition.
Regional factors figure into the retail price of gasoline, making it tougher to pinpoint why prices are higher in one place than another.
Michael Morris, an industry economist with the Energy Information Administration, said pump prices can vary from place to place in part because of geography. Transportation costs are a factor, he said, so the farther an area is from the Gulf Coast, home to many refining operations, the more expensive gas at the pump is likely to be.
"It depends on where you are," Morris said.
Of course, price disparities exist even within Western New York, with pumps on Indian reservations charging far less for fuel sold tax-free. On Gasbuddy.com, which tracks high and low prices, an Irving station on the Seneca reservation was listed as cheapest in the region Tuesday at $2.50 per gallon.
Meanwhile, three stations in Buffalo and one in Clarence were tied for the highest reported price -- $3.49 per gallon.
John Morrison, who owns rental property in Buffalo, said he doesn't get how Western New York's location has anything to do with gas prices.
"I don't understand that," he said, as he loaded his two young sons into his pickup truck on Elmwood Avenue. "I was in the Adirondacks, and it was cheaper there, and that's in the middle of nowhere. It was a good 10 cents cheaper."
Nationally, the average pump price fell 23 percent in the past month, far outpacing Buffalo's price drop.
A month ago, Cleveland's price was nearly identical to Buffalo's. But its price has fallen 31 percent since then, to $2.66. In Erie, Pa., the price over the past month is down 18 percent, to $2.96.
Lawrence Southwick Jr., professor emeritus at the University at Buffalo, said prices in New York State are routinely higher than many other states because of taxes and the cost of related regulations.
"That keeps these prices higher than they would otherwise be," he said.
Adam Garofalo, 30, an electrician from Clarence Center, says that's not fair to Western New Yorkers.
"I don't like it," he said. "I don't like it at all . . . I think it's terrible."
Garofalo is glad that the price has come down some recently, but he's still left wincing at the gas pump. He has made some changes in his driving habits to try to save money.
"I lock it in at 60 mph," he said. "I take the I-990, which is 65 mph, so I did slow down a bit."
News Staff Reporter Henry L. Davis contributed to this report.
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