Researchers investigate the variability of gas prices in Santa Barbara County | 3/6/2019 | Staff
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Those of us who drive regularly are keenly aware of gas prices and their daily fluctuations. Many of the factors that influence the price per gallon—the cost of crude oil, regional taxes and processing and transportation charges—affect all pumps in a given area. Why then do some stations charge more for fuel than others in the same general geographic location?

This was the question UC Santa Barbara geographers Alan Murray and Jing Xu sought to answer when they conducted their survey of gas prices in Santa Barbara County. Using a spatial analytic framework incorporating exploratory spatial data analysis, remote sensing, geographic information systems and spatial statistics to explore data from the real-time gas price app Gas Buddy, they investigated how the locations of these pumps could influence the prices they charge.

Features - Stations - Predictability - Variation - Murray

"We were interested in looking at the spatial features in and around stations, and whether there was any predictability to pricing variation," said Murray, who with Xu authored a paper in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Regional Science. Over the two weeks of their study, the researchers examined features related to land use and socioeconomic conditions, performed onsite observations and assessed the individual stations' proximity and connectedness to features of the built environment, such as roads, shopping centers, schools and other gas stations.

A few of the results confirm what we all might intuit: Proximity to highly trafficked areas can influence higher gas prices.

Convenience - Murray - Stations - Shopping - Centers

"You're always going to pay for convenience," Murray said. Stations near shopping centers (within 2.75 miles) and major thoroughfares tended to charge relatively higher prices, likely targeting shoppers and visitors who were already there for another reason.

"People usually do not travel just for gas," Xu said. "We travel for work and for school, and we're filling our tanks while doing other things." This could explain, for instance, why one station...
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