BOWIE — For a time, one gas station in Bowie boasted the highest price for a gallon of regular gas in all of Maryland.
At $6.13, the Shell station near the home of the Bowie Baysox was more than $1 higher than its nearby competition. And for two days, motorists who did buy gas there paid nearly as much as the average Californian.
“It makes no sense that a station in Maryland would charge that much,” said Ragina Ali, a spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
On Monday, the average price for a gallon of fuel was $4.84 per gallon and diesel fuel averaged $5.94, according to the motor club. Meanwhile, California on Monday hit a record-high average of $6.34 per gallon for regular.
Gas prices have been driven upward by increased demand locally and globally, combined with global crude oil prices rising. The statewide average for a gallon of regular gas in Maryland jumped 20 cents last week, Ali said.
Over the weekend, though, the Shell on Ballpark Road in Bowie charged more than $6 per gallon. A clerk at the store on Sunday said he could not explain the price or why it was higher than nearby stations. An Exxon on Route 3, less than a block away, was charging just over $5 per gallon.
Ali said she was surprised by photos of the prices.
“It’s just not consistent with the statewide or regional averages in any way,” she said.
By Monday, the price at the Bowie Shell was lowered to $5.13 per gallon. In a brief phone interview, a man who declined to give his name but identified himself as the manager declined to answer questions about the weekend price and hung up.
Ali recommended that motorists who believe they are being charged excessively should contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General. She acknowledged there may be little the office can do.
Maryland does not have an anti-price gouging law.
In the early days of the pandemic, the legislature authorized the governor to limit price increases to 10% during a state of emergency.
That law, however, expired last year. A bill that would have offered some consumer protections during a declared state of emergency died in committee this year.
It is unclear when prices will come down. Already tight supplies could take another hit if a major disruption were to occur due to the current hurricane season or a cyberattack like the one that targeted a major pipeline last year.
Additionally, Maryland motorists will see an increase in the state gas tax from 36.1 cents to 42.7 cents starting July 1. The increase was the subject of an intense game of hot potato between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot. Both men traded letters claiming the other had the ability to temporarily forestall the increase.
In the meantime, it is not clear when prices will cross a line that will alter driving behavior. Prices in 2020 crashed when the pandemic forced businesses to close and a shift to more telecommuting.
In December, the average gallon of regular cost $3.37, nearly $1 higher than the previous year. Some motorists said they were beginning to consider changes, according to a survey at the time by AAA Mid-Atlantic.
At the time, about 45% said they were already driving less or trying to because of gas prices. More than one-third said they were consolidating trips or carpooling.
An additional 17% said they would make changes when the price reached $3.50 per gallon. Another 16% said they would make those changes at $4 per gallon.
More than one-third said in December they did not foresee changing their driving habits because of fuel costs, according to the survey.
“At these prices, I know people are making some very difficult decisions,” Ali said.
James Smith, a 37-year-old Elkton resident who owns a construction business, said the cost of diesel fuel has more than doubled. An increase in the gas tax will add another $40 per month to that bill.
“I was really scared when COVID shut us down. I’m terrified now,” Smith said.
Higher prices have impacted work but also his family.
“I canceled both of our family camping trips this summer due to fuel costs,” Smith said. “As a business I am reworking every day’s schedule so we can send the least amount of vehicles to jobs.”