As always, vehicle fuel costs remain a bone of contention for many Salmon Arm residents. But getting information on who sets the prices, when and how, is not easy to access.
At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9, the price per litre in Salmon Arm was anywhere from 120.9 to 121.9 and, in Sicamous, drivers could fill up at 121.9 at four of the five stations listed on GasBuddy and 124.9 at the fifth retailer.
The Petro-Can in Sorrento was selling gasoline at 117.9, Balmoral was 119.9 and Tappen Esso was 1.10.
In Kamloops, prices on Jan. 9 ranged from 106.9 to 108.9, while the rate in Kelowna ranged from 114.9 to as high as 117.9.
Jason Parent of London, Ontario-based Kent Group Ltd. that provides consulting and performance data analysis in the petroleum industry, says his company is well-aware of gas prices in Salmon Arm as his company tracks volumes of fuel sold across the country.
He would not reveal Salmon Arm volumes but says stations in smaller communities often charge more for gas because they have fewer customers but the same expenses as stations in larger communities.
“Big cities sell anywhere from five to eight million litres in a year while, in small communities, it’s more like two to four million litres,” Parent said. “They need to pay off expenses so they have to generate the same revenue.”
Agreeing his explanation on sales volumes is generalized, he added that in terms of specific retailers, “some are more aggressive.”
An employee at one of the Shell stations in Salmon Arm said individual retailers do not set prices and there was no response from the company’s Calgary head office by press deadline.
Some gas retailers may be able to lower their fuel prices because they are making “a fair bit of revenue” from other offerings such as groceries or liquor that effectively supplement their revenues, says Parent.
A call to Suncor, a Calgary supplier of gasoline, resulted in an email suggesting, “Your story would benefit from comment from the Canadian Fuels Association as they’ll be able to provide an industry wide perspective on pricing.”
“It’s very much a local market dynamic and, unfortunately, not one that we’d be able to comment on or have any specific knowledge about,” reads a Jan. 8 email from the fuel association, noting the retail gasoline market is closely monitored by the Government of Canada’s Competition Bureau.
“One of the reasons why retailers don’t discuss gas pricing is because this can be seen as anti-competitive conduct.”
For its part, the Competition Bureau website indicates most gas stations post their prices on large signs, with competing stations usually offering gasoline at similar or identical prices.
An employee at one station in Salmon Arm seemingly confirms this, saying employees keep an eye on local prices and call the district manager for direction when prices at other stations change.
“Charging the same price is not illegal unless competing gas stations reach an agreement to do so,” notes the Competition Bureau website.
“The fact that prices for gasoline can change quickly is generally an indication that competition is working.”