A couple of weeks ago, I reluctantly accepted a three-day substituting assignment in Seymour, a district where I had started subbing three years ago when my daughter taught at the high school. I say reluctantly, because gas prices for regular are still near $4.20 in some areas, including the Valley, and the trip is about 40 miles. I haven't been back in over a year.
Fortunately, my car gets great mileage, but I still needed to think twice. Nevertheless, I took the assignment, because it would be mostly highway driving and in these early weeks of the semester, when subbing in Fairfield isn't always consistent, it was nice to make money.
But when I went to fill the car for the week at the one station across from Mountain Grove Cemetery, where gas was semi-reasonable, I had forgotten that the price was $4.03 for cash and $4.13 for credit. At those rates -- a 10-cent difference -- I might as well have gone to any pricey Fairfield station.
I always forget to carry more cash and literally end up paying the higher price for my senior moment. Of course, most of these stations do have ATMs, but if one is in a rush, and checking funds are low, there's little or no time to waste at the ATM.
I believe I'm not alone on this cash/credit issue. Frankly, I find the whole thing to be an unfair way to gouge the consumer. The quality of the gas is certainly no better if I'm paying in cash. And most stations these days have an ATM machine on site to entice you to pull out the money and pay the cash.
So I've started traveling to Stratford or Milford to find the cheapest gas, even though I waste about 20 miles. There are a couple of stations right off Exit 32 in Stratford, where the gas is about $3.85 but, of course, cash is required for the lower fee. In Milford, besides Costco, which had been the benchmark for economical gasoline, there are a couple of stations right near exit 39 going north that are more reasonable -- but cash up front, of course.
And further up the Post Road, almost at the Orange border, there are a few more cheap stations and some don't require cash for the lower price. Meanwhile, I've wasted a few more miles.
Meanwhile, back in Fairfield on either Black Rock Turnpike or the Post Road, the cash-for-gas battle rages. I've noticed a bit of a drop in the last couple of weeks, but it's still not enough. I can still do better in Stratford or Milford. Just the other afternoon, when I was fortunate enough to have a few dollars on me, my wife and I stopped at the junction of Barnum Avenue and Boston Post Road where two stations were advertising $3.85 for cash. My $25 just about filled my Elantra's 11-gallon tank.
Driving toward Milford on Ferry Boulevard, my wife and I found a generic station where our Big Y silver tag drops the gas price by five cents and cash wasn't required for that lower rate. While that gas was hovering around $4.04, the $3.99 I paid was better.
My other big issue is why a debit card can't be treated the same as cash. Clearly, when a consumer uses a debit card, he or she believes the cash is in the account. And while insufficiencies sometimes happen, the debit card is really the same as cash. Unfortunately, I have to say that I've only found two gas stations in the state where owners will acknowledge that debit is the same as cash. Neither was in Fairfield County.
Aside from the gas station across from Mountain Grove Cemetery where cash buys gas for $4.03, I've only found one other cheaper station, just down the street on the Post Road going toward Fairfield. The rates there have generally been pretty good, it's full service and the discount applies to cash or credit. How nice is that?
I've certainly noticed that some prices have been dropping in the last couple of weeks, but I wonder whether that drop is because of some easing of the price per barrel, more refinery activity or just the gradual change over to cheaper winter-weight gasoline. Nevertheless, it's still better to see $4.11 at Mobil on Black Rock Turnpike and even less at Citgo a little ways up. Even for Fairfield, those aren't horrific prices.
As the weather continues to cool down, I'd love to see stations drop the price of their gas for one day each week by five cents to 10 cents once a week. I could almost guarantee that if Shell, Citgo and Irving Gas on Black Rock Turnpike and Cumberland, Citgo and Shell on Post Road did that and allowed cash or credit same price, consumers would fill without hesitation. Once a week would work fine for me for my little car. Meanwhile, I'll have to keep searching for cheaper gas or decline Seymour subbing assignments until prices have dropped enough.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: email@example.com.