Giving It The Gas

Yesterday, I indicated that I wanted to discuss some recent articles in the LA Times concerning gas and gas stations. Well, today’s the day:

  • Gas in California. Those of us who live in California have been hit by the recent fast run-up in gas prices, and the slow drop afterwards. Did you ever wonder why things like that happen? A recent article in the LA Times gives a great explanation: “Oil companies operate what amounts to a legal oligopoly in California — an arrangement that probably will contribute to more wild gas spikes in the future. That’s because the Golden State’s gasoline market is essentially closed. The state’s strict clean-air rules mandate a specially formulated blend used nowhere else in the country. Producers in places such as Louisiana or Texas could make it, but there are no pipelines to get it to the West Coast quickly and cheaply. As a result, virtually all 14.6 billion gallons of gasoline sold in California last year were made by nine companies that own the state’s refineries. Three of them — Chevron, Tesoro and BP — control 54% of the state’s refining capacity.” The article notes that the problems are compounded by tight supply, a reduced number of refineries, and a lack of independent stations (85% of stations are branded, and refiners sell to the branded stations first). There are more details in the article, but it really makes clear what a precarious situation California is in. If Congress really wanted to reduce gasoline prices, probably the best solution would be mandate a common clean air formulation to be used across the entire country.
  • The President and Gasoline. Building upon the previous article, another LA Times article explores the question of whether the President can do anything to reduce gasoline prices. The basic answer: “no”. It is up to Congress to change the federal gas tax; it is up to the state to change the local gas tax. Crude oil is a global commodity, and the companies that sell it are there to make money (OK, the President could lower prices by nationalizing the oil companies, but I don’t believe that is what those who clamor for lower prices want). Production can be increased, but that doesn’t necessarily lower prices — as the private oil companies sell to the highest bidder, even if that isn’t the US. Refinery production could be increased, thus increasing the supply of refined product, but most people want the refineries to be built somewhere else. The President could preempt the states and mandate a common formulation, but that might run into constitutional issues. Solving this problem isn’t as easy as it looks.
  • Futuristic Gas Stations. So let’s look at the folks that sell gasoline. Growing up, my grandmother worked at the Robinsons in Beverly Hills, which was near the wonderfully futuristic Union 76 station in Beverly Hills. I mention this because the LA Times has a nice article on United Oil, which has discovered that building gas stations with unique architectures and amenities increases gas sales. Their new stations at La Brea and Slauson has a design that is a combination of modernism and Googie. This station sells about 15,000 gallons of gas a day, well above the average of less than 4,000 gallons. Other United Oil stations have features that set them apart from typical petrol purveyors: tile roofs, topiary, fountains and drought-resistant gardens. The canopy over a Chevron station in Cerritos is lighted with custom see-through solar panels. Two 25-foot walls of flowing water cool a United Oil brand station in Carson. There are fanciful murals: Leaping dolphins, flying horses, soaring eagles beneath majestic clouds, hot-air balloons and giant-size candy can be found hand-painted on the ceilings and walls. I know this personally: our local stations at Nordhoff and the 405 has textured concrete and wonderful mosaics. So does the design of a station draw you in?



Humpday News Chum: Transportion is the Theme of the Day, Plus Something Bizarre

Ah, humpday news chum. These are some items collected over the last two days. The first few all have to do with transportation in one way or another:

  • From the “Getting Framed” Department: Fast Company has a nice piece on cleaning up the graphics on license plates. I’m not sure how practical their ideas are, but who cares about practicality. I found this via LA Observed, IIRC, which was commenting on the California version that is loaded with personal information, including a bar code, religious preference, political party, and regional markings.
  • From the “Give ‘Em an Inch” Department: USA Today has an article on I-19, one of the few Interstates that is all metric. Given everything else happening in Arizona, is it a surprise to anyone that they want to change this back to good old English American units? This has merchants upset, because all their advertising material has the metric exit numbers.
  • From the “Living in the Past” Department: You yunguns out there might not remember it, but there were days when you would get full service when you got gas—and I mean real-full, not New Jersey-full, service—checking the oil, tire pressure, etc. Guess what? There’s still such a station in Missouri! At the Chippewa and Giles Service Station (Sinclair), George or Walter Wiesehan will pump the gas, check the oil and tires and wash the windshield. Customers can pay at the pump, but only by handing George or Walter cash or a credit card. The owner doesn’t want to install new pumps, “They’re $9,000 a pump, and I don’t need ’em”. He says the old pumps, installed around 40 years ago, work just fine. He swipes cards in a machine inside the station. The station was opened in 1957, and is one of only two Sinclair stations remaining in the St. Louis area.
  • From the “Riding the Rails” Department: You may not believe it, but there is mass transit in Los Angeles. The LA Times has an interesting article on the street theatre that is the Blue Line. For those of us into history, it is worth noting that much of the old Blue Line route is the old PE Long Beach line.

And now, for the bizarre:

  • From the “Being a Boob” Department: A Saudi cleric is advocating adult breast feeding, so that unrelated men and women become maternally related… and thus not subject to the rules about men and women not mixing. Specifically, Sheikh Al Obeikan, an adviser to the royal Saudi court and consultant to the Saudi Ministry of Justice said on TV that women who come into regular contact with men who aren’t related to them ought to give them their breast milk so they will be considered relatives. There is disagreement about the best (ahem) way to deliver the liquid.

    I should note that I’m not posting this to criticise Islam—I have no problem with the basic religion. However, as with any religion, the ultra-Orthodox sects (cough, Mea Sharim, cough) often have weird rulings like this. Some are true. Some are not (cough, hole in a sheet, cough). Although this is weird, I can see the logic, and it is no more of a stretch than the logic behind an eruv.


The Gas Station Business -and- Saving A Corporation’s Balls

[More from my lunchtime review of the papers…]

An article in today’s Ventura County Star provides some fascinating insight into the service station business. The article is about the retirement of the owner of Dikes Chevron at Victoria Avenue and Highway 101, who sold the station after near 40 years. The station was sold for $5.5M.

Have you ever wondered how much money a gas station makes? According to this article, total monthly revenue averaged $800,000 this year, with gasoline sales totalling about $680,000 monthly while revenue from the station’s convenience store and Subway sandwich shop are about $120,000 a month. The station is one of the area’s busiest, selling about 230,000 gallons of gasoline a month, or 7,500 to 8,000 gallons a day on average.

Many of us growing up remember gas stations as service stations, where you could get autowork done as well. I distinctly remember that being true for Yarnell’s Union in Playa Del Rey (long gone), now an ARCO. Where did those service bays go? The article gives the answer, when it noted how the associated garage, a member for decades of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s “Approved Auto Repair” network, was an integral part of the service station until 2002, when Chevron Corp. ordered its dealers to either close their garages or move them out of the stations. Chevron mostly replaced garages with convenience stores, which cost less to operate and generated more revenue. The company also did not want its brand associated with auto repair businesses because the company could not control the quality of the work.

How much has gas gone up? In December 1968, when the station opened, regular gasoline was 39.9 cents a gallon.

Now, regular readers know my obsession with obscure highway related history, and petrolania is certainly a part of that. To that end, I’ll point you to a wonderful site detailing the history of Standard Oil done by my fellow roadgeek, R.V. Droz.

By the way, as R.V. notes, ConocoPhillips, a daughter company of Standard Oil, is dropping the (76) Ball. Help save the Union 76 Ball! Don’t let ConocoPhillips become the company without Balls.