Fuel Gallons Purchased Dropped 20% in March 2020

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Fuel Gallons Purchased Dropped 20% in March 2020

A motorist pumping gas

BOSTON — The effects of social distancing and non-essential business closures across the country are once again highlighted at the pump.

According to GasBuddy, fuel demand drove down the gallons purchased by 20 percent this past month compared to March 2019.

Along with the 20-percent decline in gallons pumped last month year-over-year, additional declines include a 14-percent drop in fuel transactions and a 28-percent drop in total payment volume (TPV). These drops come at a time when gasoline has never been more affordable due to a combination of the massive global surplus of crude oil and drop in demand, according to GasBuddy's recent report.

The report examined millions of fuel transactions from Pay with GasBuddy.

"The dramatic shift in fuel buying upends the pattern of rising gas prices and demand ahead of the warmer months. This data reflects the depth of the impact to consumer and commercial activity the world is experiencing," said Sarah McCrary, CEO of GasBuddy.

Looking at month-over-month transactions, gallons purchased dropped 10 percent from February through March 2020 — a reversal of the trend in transactions established in the previous two years. In March 2019, gallons purchased increased 20 percent and in March 2018, gallons purchased increased by 25 percent. 

Additionally, a growing number of members have started to take advantage of GasBuddy's ratings and reviews feature to share vital information on what's available at convenience stores and report on how various stations are handling the spread of the virus, like the presence of hand sanitizers at the pump, according to the Boston-based company.

Highlights from the report include:

Weakened Gasoline Demand Disrupts Seasonal Fuel Buying Trends

The first quarter of 2020 saw a 9-percent drop in gallons pumped, a 6.6-percent drop in monthly fuel transactions and a 21-percent drop in monthly TPV from January through March. February through March saw the most significant drops, with monthly fuel transactions decreasing 6.5 percent, gallons purchased decreasing 10 percent and monthly TPV decreasing 18.2 percent from the prior month, largely due to the stay-at-home orders enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This trend is significantly different from the previous year, where monthly fuel transactions from February to March of 2019 increased 17.6 percent, gallons purchased increased 20 percent and monthly TPV increased 32.2 percent. 

Overpaying for Gas

Due to the drastic movements in gas prices during the COVID-19 pandemic, 28 percent of Americans found themselves "overpaying" for gas by paying more than the average price for their gasoline purchase in the first quarter. The states with the highest number of transactions that paid more than the average price include Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina, Indiana and Michigan.

Half of the top 10 states where most drivers overpaid for gas are located in the Great Lakes region, where high levels of competition between gas stations pushed more frequent changes in prices, leading to a higher chance of overpaying. 

Gas Station Brand Loyalty Decreases 3 Percent Year-Over-Year

Gas station brand loyalty decreased 3 percent from the first quarter of 2019 to the same timeframe this year, with 55 percent of consumers transacting at more than one gas station brand per month in 2020 compared to 58 percent in Q1 2019. Focusing on the "super pumper" drivers who filled up more than once per week or four times per month, more than half filled up at two to three different brands. 

Americans Paid Nearly $28 Per Transaction

The average cost of a fuel transaction in the first quarter this year was $27.53. The state with the highest average fuel bill was Alaska at $40 per tank followed by California at $34.50 per tank. The state that paid the least for their fill-ups was Oklahoma at $25.40 per tank.

Even though gas prices dropped from February through March to $1.97 per gallon, the average cost for gasoline increased 7 cents per fill-up from Q1 2019, when the national average price was $2.38 per gallon. 

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