Gouged at the Pump, ‘Zone’ Law Needed

The problem is not new

   South Fork gas station operators are at it again. In his latest survey of the region’s at-the-pump prices, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. found that residents and visitors in the Hamptons pay 15 cents a gallon more than the Long Island average, and a stunning 20 cents more than the rest of the state. Making things worse, station owners have kept their prices artificially inflated this summer, even though on the rest of Long Island the average fell by 9 cents since the previous survey.
    Last week, Mr. Thiele said, a gallon of regular cost about $3.90 across Long Island but $4.05 at highway-side stations between East Hampton and Southampton — and $4.45 in Amagansett and Montauk.
    The problem is not new. Summing up the latest statistics, Mr. Thiele said that South Fork gas prices have exceeded the Long Island average in all of the last eight surveys. Calling out the practice, Mr. Thiele said, “Distributors are deliberately leaving the higher prices in place to take advantage of the busy summer season. This has nothing to do with costs and competition, rather it is deliberate price fixing.”
    For businesses, the added cost of fuel leads to an uneven playing field. For residents and visitors, the extra cents can be an unfair burden. And no, not everyone in the Hamptons can afford whatever it costs; contrary to popular belief, we are not all dining on caviar from silver spoons.
    Help from Albany has been on the horizon but never quite made it into law. A bill sponsored by Mr. Thiele that would have prohibited “zone pricing,” that is, regional differences not linked to supply costs, passed in the Assembly but failed in the Senate last year. Senator Kenneth P. LaValle is backing a companion bill, but there is little chance of anything happening with it at least until the summer driving season is over.
    Yes, South Fork prices for a lot of things are higher than they are elsewhere, but that does not make it right for those providing essential commodities like gasoline to stick it to consumers here again and again. If station owners will not do what is right, it is up to Albany to step in and protect us at the pump.