USC fuel station offers convenient alternative to local pumps

The station’s regular gas price is 7 cents cheaper than the L.A. average and touts convenience as its selling factor, allowing students to pay with their USCards.

A photo of the USC gas pump at the USC fuel station on on the corner of 35th Street and Grand Avenue.

College students with cars are no strangers to gas station woes: long lines, frayed tempers, honking horns and the occasional newly licensed driver struggling at a gas pump on a Friday night. Arguably, the most significant cause of our collective malaise, however, is the skyrocketing price of gas.

The average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline in Los Angeles reached its 2021 high today with an average of $4.44 per gallon. According to tech company GasBuddy’s fuel tracker, prices are up $1.27 from last year’s average, the steepest gas prices has ever been since 2012.

The fuel station operated by USC Transportation currently offers regular gasoline at $4.35 per gallon, seven cents cheaper than the L.A. average. The station, located less than a mile away from University Park Campus on the corner of 35th Street and Grand Avenue, also carries mid-grade gasoline and biodiesel, priced at $4.65 and $4.25, respectively.

“The station is open to the USC community, as well as the general public,” said Michelle Garcia, senior associate director at USC Transportation.

Annenberg Media spoke to 30 students regarding the USC fuel station. Of the 30, 29 had no knowledge of its existence.

When asked how the transportation office is conducting marketing and outreach for the service, Garcia said that there are currently no marketing efforts for the USC fuel station.

She explained that while the station had some marketing 10 years ago, one of the challenges her office faces is not being able to always offer the cheapest gas price to students, which is why marketing was stopped.

“I think one of the challenges is that while it’s very convenient since you can use your discretionary funds in your USCard, we also understand that a lot of people want the cheapest gas price, and we’re not always the cheapest,” Garcia said.

While the current price per gallon of regular gas at the USC station is currently less than the L.A. average, it isn’t the cheapest option around. According to a Google search of gas stations in the 90007 area code, some 76, Mobil, and privately owned stations currently offer slightly cheaper prices. Membership warehouse stations, such as Costco and Sam’s Club, typically offer lower priced gasoline compared to nearby stations, including USC’s.

Garcia said the fact that USC is not able to offer the most competitive prices is due to volume.

“Because we don’t buy gas in these huge volumes, we’re not able to get volume discounts,” Garcia said. “We also don’t go through our gas as quickly as a gas station, so we’re not able to adjust that fast to the market because we still have to pay the price that we originally bought the gas for.”

On the other hand, the fact that the USC station is not impacted as quickly by the market means that gas prices stay relatively stagnant. This could be beneficial when gas prices are high or are projected to rise. ABC7 recently reported that the Orange County oil spill could lead to “more pain at the pump.”

“When gas stations refill after running out, they’re refilling at a higher price,” Garcia said. “And for us, we’re still at that same price that we bought four days ago.”

The rising price of gas remains a growing concern among commuter students at USC, yet some of them are still willing to pay more for convenience. Feier Mo, a graduate student studying global communication, commutes from Glendora to USC two to three times a week. Mo, who usually gets gas at her local Costco gas station, said she would rather use the USC station to fuel up than wait in a long-winding line at Costco.

“Gas prices are insane, but the line for gas is even crazier,” Mo said. “I didn’t know USC [had] a gas station. Now that I know, I’ll probably use it when I’m on campus.”

Mo isn’t alone in her quest for convenience. Thuy Le, a graduate student studying educational counseling, also goes to a Costco to fill up her tank. Although she appreciates the cheaper price, she has also experienced “insanely long lines” lately.

“If I had known that USC [had] a gas station, I might have been more inclined to use it, since I have to show up to Costco at 6 a.m. in the morning to beat the line,” Le said.

Garcia believes the convenience factor is what sets USC’s station apart from local stations.

“Convenience is our selling factor — the close proximity to campus and the ability to pay using your USCard. And it’s just around the corner, right?” Garcia said.