Times are getting tough for bargain hunters looking for a good price on gas. Mary Canessa from Pomona, N.Y., was fueling up her Blazer sports utility vehicle at the Mobil station on Route 94 in Vernon, N.J., last Saturday. When her travels take her into New Jersey, she said, filling her tank is on the agenda. But the Garden State has also felt sticker shock. Ryan Rachel has been pumping gas at the Vernon Mobil for four years. "When I started, it was $1.01 for regular," he said. In the four years since the price has doubled. At the station on Saturday, the price of regular unleaded gas was $1.94. Still, gas is much costlier in Orange County than it is just over the border. The Sunrise Mart Gulf station in Vernon sold regular for $1.87 which is cheaper than the lowest price found in a national survey (see sidebar). A spot-check of prices in Chester, Goshen, Harriman, Monroe, and Warwick found the price of regular gas ranging from a low of $2.09 at the Chester Cumberland Farms Gulf on 17M, to a high of $2.29 at the Exxon Tiger Mart on Averhill Avenue in Harriman. The Tiger Mart manager said prices are higher there because of the "zone" the station is in. It's near Woodbury Commons, where several interstates converge. "We're in our own zone by itself," said the manager, who didn't want his name used. "I guess they" the gas companies "know all the highways are right here. "They see car flow, and I know we pay more for our gas than they sell it down there," he said, referring to the Wally Mart Mobil Station a mile or so away in Harriman on 17M. But Wally Mart owner Romi Singh said he doesn't think the claim about "zones" is true. Tiger Mart station is taking advantage of its location, he said. "I don't control my prices," said Singh. "I'm on commission basis. ALT East, my oil company, they determine the prices." And people are spending less in the Wally Mart store, perhaps as a result of gas prices, he said. Gassing up his full-sized Chevy pickup at the Wally Mart was Lacy Gilkeson from Monroe. The vehicle costs between $50 and $60 to fill, he said. "It came to $40 for only 18 gallons and I have a 25-gallon tank," he said. Gilkeson said he has changed his driving habits since prices have edged to record highs. He takes fewer and shorter trips. In Monroe, near the Pizza Hut on Route 17M, was the second-lowest price found in Orange County last Saturday. At the Mobil station housing the AC Service Center, regular gasoline was $2.11. Manager Scott Jacob said business has been up. "We're busier," said Jacob. "People come in and say that we're the lowest in town. So they come here." He said he doesn't know why the prices are cheaper there. "It depends on how much he" owner Tony Crasa "pays," Jacob said. All of the pumps at the station were in use at the time. "Most of the time I comparison shop," said Luis Vega of Blooming Grove. "I go to the places where gas is cheaper." His Isuzo Trooper costs about $35 to fill. Next to him was Fred Williams, who also comparison shopped that day. "This morning I did, when I saw the other prices, then I went by and saw this one was about 6 cents a gallon cheaper," said Williams. His GMC Envoy costs about $40 to fill up. Touring the United States with his Celtic band, Rosheen, Michel Henault of Quebec City filled up for $2.15 a gallon at the Goshen Mobil on 17M. The band played Bodles Opera House in Chester the night before. Henault converted Canada's liters into gallons and came up with this analysis: "In Canada, it's about 95 cents a liter. One U.S. gallon is like 3.78 liters. So you pay like one-third of what we pay, actually." He said Canadians drive smaller cars, but he needs a bigger vehicle to transport his equipment. His Ford 3 Star sport utility vehicle costs about $35 to fill, he said. Tony Hawkins, pumping at the Exxon Tiger Mart in Harriman, said, "This is the result of our newly elected administration." Kali Issa, owner of the Mobil Mart and Sunoco Wally Mart on Maple Avenue in Warwick, stresses he doesn't set pricing. "We just go according to what these big companies tell us to price," he said. "They set the prices and we monitor the gasoline that's all." Warwick resident Bart Amatetti doesn't mind driving those 10 extra miles to the New Jersey border. That day, Amatetti was paying $2.09 at Chester's Cumberland Farms Gulf station, yet he wasn't filling up. He tends to save the fill-ups for New Jersey. "The only way I comparison-shop is when I go to New Jersey, where I work," he said. "I even take my wife's car down there to get gas once a week." Why are prices so different between New Jersey and New York? Vernon Mobil manager Guy Marthens said, "I can't answer you. I have no idea why. Probably somebody in Atlantis Petroleum headquarters will know. That's who makes our prices." New York's prices drop the closer you get to the New Jersey border. The Gulf station on Oakland Avenue in Warwick, leading to Route 94 South, was selling regular gas for $2.12. At least one customer said there are better bargains to be found than even Vernon can offer. "It's high in Vernon," said Steve Barany of Glenwood, N.J., as he pumped gas in Vernon. "If you go out of town, you'll pay less." Highest, lowest, and one year ago The Lundberg Survey released on Sunday, March 20, found the national average of regular gasoline was $2.10 as of Friday, March 18. The survey's highest price was found in Honolulu at $2.34 and the lowest in Newark, N.J. at $1.91 (source: The Associated Press). But The Warwick Advertiser found a lower price of $1.87 on Saturday, March 19, at the Sunrise Mart Gulf station in Vernon, N.J. The federal government's Energy Information Administration (http://eia.doe.gov) reports that the average price of a gallon of regular gas on the East Coast was $1.952 on March 7, $2.016 on March 14, and $2.070 on March 14. That reflects a 35-cent increase from one year ago.