Many factors determine how gas producers, refiners, wholesalers and retailers set their prices.  The government—state or federal—does not set the price for gasoline.  Those prices are then subject, in a free market economy, to competition from other businesses. In 2007, Attorney General Martha Coakley and several other Northeast States commissioned a report on the structure of petroleum markets in the Northeast, including factors that influence how gasoline prices are set.  For detailed information you can review the  Report on Petroleum Products Markets in the Northeast pdf format of    Complete_Petroleum_Report_09-07-07.pdf  file size 3MB .  This Report was prepared in 2007 for Attorney General Coakley as well as the Attorneys General of Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.

Information about “Price Gouging”

We know that high gas prices can impact families and businesses, but that rising gas prices alone, however, are not necessarily an indication that gas station retailers are engaging in unlawful conduct. It is, however, unlawful for companies to collude to raise prices, such as an explicit agreement among competitors to raise or fix prices.  In addition, in cases where a market emergency exists, such as in the event of a natural disaster or world conflict, it is illegal for a company to take advantage of that emergency by charging unconscionably high prices—which constitutes “price gouging.” 

A price may be deemed unconscionably high, and “price gouging,” if  the amount charged represented a gross disparity between the price of the petroleum product and 1) the price at which the same product was sold or offered for sale by the petroleum-related business in the usual course of business immediately prior to the onset of the market emergency, or 2) the price at which the same or similar petroleum product is readily obtainable by other buyers in the trade area; provided that the disparity is not substantially attributable to increased prices charged by the petroleum-related business suppliers or increased costs due to an abnormal market disruption.

Unlawful practices

There is a state law which requires gas stations to accurately display their prices for gas. Pursuant to G.L. c. 94, section 295E, no retail dealer may sell motor fuel at any price other than the price posted at the pump at the time of the sale.

It is unlawful for companies to collude to raise prices or to take advantage of market emergencies, such as hurricanes or other severe storms, to charge unconscionably high prices. If you have concerns or evidence of collusion or price gouging, please contact us at 617-727-8400, or file a complaint online .

Credit v. Cash at the Pump

Consumers should be aware that stations can charge different prices for using cash to pay versus using a credit/debit card. Massachusetts law, MGL c. 140D § 28A, allows gas stations to discount their price for consumers paying with cash.  However, the gas station should be advertising the higher credit price clearly and conspicuously in its signage.  If a discount is offered for cash sales, the words “cash” should be included in the applicable portion of the signs.  When “cash” sales and other types of sales are made from the same dispenser, both prices must be posted and clearly labeled with the type of sale the price refers. i.e. “cash”, “credit”, “credit/debit”.  You can read more about guidelines for signage of the cash sale option at http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/docs/dos/202cmr2-00final-clean.pdf. If you have concerns or evidence of discrepancies in prices, please contact us at 617-727-8400, or file a complaint online .

Educate Yourself

You can research gas prices before filling up your tank. Various websites and smartphone apps are available to help you identify rates at service stations near you. Some of the information is provided by other users who are on the lookout for their fellow commuters. While we’re not responsible for the content of any of the links below, you may find them useful:

Websites:

Massachusetts Gas Prices
Fueleconomy.gov
AAA Fuel Gauge Report

MapQuest Gas Prices

Smartphone Apps:

GasBuddy Mobile Apps (various platforms)
AAA TripTik (iPhone) 
FuelFinder (iPhone)