June 17, 2004 – With gasoline pump prices having shrunk a bit on the U.S. mainland and in Puerto Rico in the last few weeks, Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Andrew Rutnik has called upon V.I. fuel wholesalers and retailers to follow the trend and lower their prices. And if they don't, he says, then he will.
"During the current price-control regime, DLCA has recognized the need for these same wholesalers and retailers to adjust their prices upward as the current fuel crisis peaked," a release issued from Rutnik's office on Thursday afternoon stated. And now that prices are declining, "we are now looking for the same response from them," it said.
Further, according to the release, "If a price decrease is not forthcoming, then DLCA will take its own action and force a price reduction that matches the worldwide decline in fuel prices."
The most recent data compiled by the Lundberg Survey, an independent market research firm, show an average decrease of 6.5 cents per gallon in the United States. Decreases are continuing in the prices of both crude oil and gasoline, the DLCA release stated. "We are also very concerned with the most recent 20 cents increase per gallon in St. Croix, and unless we see some justification for this sharp increase, DLCA will be compelled to take action in the St. Croix market."
On April 1, Licensing and Consumer Affairs imposed a freeze on motor fuel prices locally, subject to periodic adjustment to reflect world market changes. On June 4, Hovensa increased its "rack rate" — what it charges fuel trucks to fill up at its loading dock on St. Croix — by 19 cents a gallon for regular and 20.5 cents for premium. DLCA immediately granted increases of 20 cents a gallon on the island for both regular and premium gas. (See "DLCA OKs Gas Hike of 20 Cents a Gallon on St. Croix".)
With the freeze in effect in the territory, Virgin Islanders have seen an unfamiliar phenomenon unfold: prices rising stateside so sharply that in some areas, notably California, they were within pennies of what motorists pay on St. Thomas and St. John.
As of May 21, the DLCA reported, pump prices on St. Thomas, depending of choice of fuel and service, ranged from $2.23 to $2.37 a gallon. As of Thursday, that range had slipped down to about $2.14 to $2.34.
On St. John, the lowest price as of Thursday was $2.24 for regular gas.
With Hovensa as its supplier, St. Croix historically has had far cheaper motor fuel than the other islands. But with the recent 20-cent increase, prices per gallon ranged as of Thursday from $1.77 to $1.99.
"Virgin Islands consumers have long witnessed that when world fuel prices jump quickly, prices immediately increase," the DLCA release stated. "When fuel prices decline, it takes a considerably [longer] time to be reflected at the pump." It added that department authorities "hope the retailers and wholesalers … will voluntarily reduce their prices to match the national trend."
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