No prices are more visible to the public than gasoline prices. Even for people who don’t have to fill up a tank on a regular basis, gasoline prices are likely to be in their view, posted every day. In addition, no prices have more of an impact on short-run movements in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Gasoline prices are so much more volatile than other CPI components that, even though gasoline makes up less than 6 percent of the CPI, it is often the main source of monthly price movements in the all items index. Moreover, because they are so visible and gasoline is purchased so frequently, gasoline prices have a major impact on the perception of prices. Constantly seeing prices at the pump creep ever higher will often create a perception of broader inflation—and, of course, higher gasoline prices are likely to eventually have an impact on other prices as transportation costs increase.
So, it is particularly important that gasoline price changes be measured accurately and reliably. Fortunately, gasoline is one of the few consumer goods for which there are many sources of price data. In fact, the ease of price collection makes it feasible for other government agencies and even private sources to create reliable measures. On the government side, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) publishes extensive gasoline price data. Among private sources are the American Automobile Association, the Oil Price Information Service, and the Lundberg Survey. Furthermore, gasoline is one of the few nonfood items for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes an average price series as well as an index; the fact that gasoline is a relatively homogenous product makes meaningful average price data possible.
This article examines three measures of gasoline prices: the BLS Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) U.S. city average for all types of gasoline, the BLS CPI average price series for all types of gasoline, and the EIA Weekly Retail Gasoline and Diesel Prices for all grades of gasoline. The purpose of the article is to identify how these measures have behaved over the 10-year period from December 2002 to December 2012.