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Website Helps Drivers Fill up Without Emptying their Wallets - 2004-03-28


Americans are used to cheap gas. They pay some of the lowest prices in the world to fill up their cars. But gas prices have been rising across the United States, and now that they've reached record highs - so has consumer frustration. Some drivers are striking back by sharing gas price information over the Internet, as Leda Hartman explains from Interstate Highway 40, in North Carolina.

Some of the highest gas prices in North Carolina are in the upscale town of Chapel Hill.

George Callas is paying 46 cents a liter for regular gas at a BP station. Why did he come to this pricey place? "Because of the traffic flow," he says. "I was running out of gas, so it was kind of like do it now or die."

Sixty-five kilometers south, in the working class town of Sanford, Ada Patrick is getting a better deal: 40 cents a liter at Amoco. "That's why I stopped here, because it's the cheapest I've seen," she says.

Ms. Patrick is just passing through. In the town where she lives, a liter of regular gas costs 43 cents. So she's saving money by filling up here.

But no matter where they buy gas, many people say they feel helpless in the face of rising prices. They say they can't stop buying it, because gas is a necessity, just like food. Jeremy Pace agrees, up to a point. "You can change which supermarket you go to and you can comparison shop. You don't have to just blindly accept whatever they give you," he says.

Mr. Pace, a computer consultant, is a member of GasBuddy.com, a web site that turns the guesswork of finding cheap gas into a science. Sitting in his Ford sedan at his favorite station in the town of Graham, Mr. Pace says GasBuddy can help consumers vote with their wheels. Every day, some of GasBuddy's 60,000 contributors check the prices at their local gas stations and post them up on the web. Jeremy Pace checks 20 different gas stations three times a week. Why such fuss, over a few cents?

"The money's gotta come from somewhere. If you're spending more money on gasoline, that means you're spending less money on food, or maybe you're not gonna go to the movies that month. It adds up after awhile," he says.

Though GasBuddy has been around for almost four years, it's gotten a record number of hits in the last two months.

"We're getting probably about 25 percent more prices being entered per week than we were before, and about two to three times the number of people coming to the web site," says Jason Taves, a computer programmer from Minneapolis, the web site's co-founder. "Right now we're getting approximately 60,000 to 80,000 visitors to the web site per day."

These days, the GasBuddy web site says the country's highest gas prices are in southern California. The lowest are in the southeast, around Atlanta.

GasBuddy's Jason Taves advises drivers not to buy gas in affluent areas or right along the highway. But no matter where a gas station is located, experts predict that fuel prices will continue to climb, just in time for the summer travel season.

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