Street Talk: Poorer the area, higher the gas price

If you cruise up Philadelphia’s main street heading north to the suburbs, and look at gas prices, you can see one way the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

There’s as much as a 60-cent difference between gas prices in the heart of North Philly and those in the suburbs.

More typical is gas for $2.57 on North Broad, compared with $2.21 in near Montgomery County, a 36-cent difference.

It’s odd because nobody ever mistook North Philadelphia for the wide lawns and stately homes in Montgomery County.

It’s obvious by merely looking out your car window as you whizz by. Or you could take a more scholarly approach and see that the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 26.5 percent of Philadelphians live below the poverty level, compared to a mere 6.5 percent 5 miles away in Abington.

And you can do that look-out-the-window thing to see that tens of thousands of people are living in McRowHouses, not McMansions.

A drive from Broad and Oregon all the way to Willow Grove, in suburban Montgomery County, reveals the following: The highest prices are in stations on North Broad, all the way to the city line as you cross into Cheltenham.

The costliest in that stretch was $2.79 a gallon, leaving off the ridiculous 9/10 of a penny that all gasoline prices carry with them.

That was in lower North Broad, at the corner of Parrish, in the heart of a very poor urban area.

If you’re running out of gas and in the city, head down North Broad past City Halland you’ll find fewer stations, but prices like these: $2.29, $2.35, $2.37, and $2.39.

Let’s do the math. If you were to put 10 gallons in your car at the most expensive station on North Broad, you’d spend $27.90. Drive a few blocks south, to South Broad, and it’s $22.90, a savings of $5.

Do that a couple of times a week, and it’s $10, enough for a decent beer or two.

Keep heading north on Route 611, which becomes Old York Road, as it wends through Cheltenham. Three minutes north of the city line you can fill up for $2.23, or go on to Abington, where a gallon will set you back a mere $2.21, and if you venture all the way to Willow Grove, about 7 miles from the city line, that drops to $2.19.

Leanise Rodriguez, 26, a waitress who travels on North Broad at least three days a week quickly noticed the price differences.

Only once over a couple of years did she buy gas in the city, and that was only $10 so she could make it home.

“I don’t know how they think they can get away with it,” she said, “Or why they

do it.”

“If you think about it, it is such a very poor area,” she said. What explains how the people in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods end up paying more that the folks with Beemers in the driveway further north?

That question stumps Ross DiBono, executive director of the Pennsylvania Gasoline Retailers Association. Oil companies set the wholesale prices, and typically the station operators keep only 5 or 6 cents a gallon, he said.

“In most cases, the oil companies charge whatever they think they can get away with,” he said.

It’s complicated, but for all that, pretty simple.

Metro columnist and veteran newsman Dave Warner tackles Philadelphia metropolitan issues in his weekly column. Email Dave at