Jason Toews and Dustin Copal have a simple mission – to help drivers find cheap gas. Their Web site, www.gasbuddy.com
,is a coalition of sites that provides the cheapest current gas prices in over 170 metropolitan areas. Members gather pump prices and post them to their affiliated city site, where data is organized in charts that show prices from lowest-to-highest and vice-versa. Prices remain on the site for only 60 hours. Users can search for specific gas brands in different regions of the city, say, all posted Chevron stations in the Baldwin Park area of Los Angeles. A recent check of www.losangelesprices.com
shows a $.46 difference between the highest and lowest prices in the metropolitan area. It’s possible to eat up the savings trying to cross the city to get to that lowest station, yet narrowing the search to West Los Angeles still shows a $.20 variance. That’s a $3.00 savings on a fifteen gallon fill-up. For anyone managing a fleet of cars, the savings can be substantial. The accuracy of the listings depends on the reliability of the members. Yet after almost four years in business Toews is confident in his audit methods. “Our system automatically monitors the prices sent in by comparing it with other stations in the area and seeing if there’s any anomalies,” he says. "Newer users are checked frequently, and long-time members police the site for inaccuracies and vigilantly report them," he says. Membership is free and offers a few perks. By posting information, members earn points that enter them in prize drawings. Toews says he’s given away electric scooters, and presently he’s raffling off $400 in gas cards. Drivers can use graphs to compare prices in different cities, identify 12-month trends and look for indications of price volatility. They can also track fuel expenditures of multiple vehicles through an online fuel log book. A Web poll is tabulated every week with a new question. Toews and Coupal are beta-testing a wireless web application that gives drivers with Internet-enabled cell phones access to the Web site to get prices on the fly. The application is intended to launch in couple of weeks, Toews says. But the main motivation remains finding cheap gas. “Our users are from all walks of life,” Toews says. “We get sixteen-year-old kids who just got their licenses, eighty-year-olds, cab drivers, and doctors. We’ve built a community of Internet users all over the country.” Even with the popularity of the site neither partner has given up their day jobs. Toews is a computer programmer and Dustin is an opthamologist. The site is registered non-profit, and the advertising revenue is just enough to pay the bills. Drivers’ exasperation over high gas prices has led to the forming of an unexpected grass-roots coalition. “People get to know each other through the message forum,” Toews says. “They become friends, and there’s actually quite a few meetings in person. Groups hold semi-regular meetings across the country; I’ve been to a few. They start by talking about the Web site but it evolves into other topics. There’s only so much you can say about gas.” Vive la Resistance.