Are South Okanagan drivers getting hosed at the pumps?
That’s the question Penticton council is asking of their federal representative, as the tourist driving season comes to a close with reports of much lower gas prices further afield. Councillors voted unanimously earlier this month to send a letter to the federal MP to investigate whether price fixing was behind the cost of local fuel.
“Penticton always seems to have higher gas prices than everywhere else. What it seems is that the prices are all the same,” Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said, noting he spent Tuesday morning at a meeting in Spokane, Wash., where prices varied from gas station to gas station.
“At home, every station is the same price except on band lands, which is always a penny cheaper. … It doesn’t seem to be a free market enterprise. Everybody seems to have the same price.”
Penticton prices are not only uniform, but they are a big departure from what other municipalities pay. According to BCgasprices.com as of Tuesday morning, a litre of gas cost Penticton drivers $1.25.9. But the city’s neighbours were enjoying much lower rates.
Kelowna’s rate topped $1.18.9 Tuesday morning, while West Kelowna’s rates were posted at $1.19.9 and Enderby prices ranged from $1.15.9 to $1.18.9. Gas prices were posted at $1.22.9 in Vernon and $1.20.9 in both Summerland and Osoyoos. Kamloops is enjoying the cheapest gas of them at all, with a posted rate of $1.08.9.
Driving home from a meeting in Summerland Monday night, Ashton reported seeing gas prices that were two cents a litre cheaper in Trout Creek and five cents cheaper in Summerland.
“Why is Penticton at $1.25.9? We’re not that far away from a hub, and Kamloops is a hub where the gas goes through. It just seems, or it appears, that we’re always faced with higher prices at the south end of the valley,” he said.
Conservative MP Dan Albas (Okanagan-Coquihalla) said Monday that he has also heard from constituents about sky-high fuel costs that aren’t repeated elsewhere.
“I have opened up an investigation on it,” he said. “There’s a lot of variables, it’s a complex issue. But if you compare West Kelowna with South Okanagan with Merrit and Kamloops, it seems to be centred more in the South Okanagan.”
He said Kamloops is a difficult market to compare gas prices, as the local market changed with the addition of a large national retailer.
“Costco went in with a loss-leader price, and it triggered a price war. That’s an example where the market is very competitive and, in speaking to people, it won’t be sustainable in the long term,” Albas said.
He added that he will be speaking with both large oil companies and local gas station owners to piece the gas-price puzzle together.
Where there are problems, Albas said, he promised action.
“In the case where there is uncompetitive behaviour that’s contrary to what’s laid out in the Competition Act, then certainly I would be looking at what those options are,” he said.
“This is a political process for obvious reasons. One of the things that I think people expect of any elected official is that it’s looked at and the right action is taken.”