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Gas Price Shenanigans

Gas stations in town are charging different prices for cash and credit purchases. While not illegal, it is certainly annoying.

It seems a gross understatement to say that people are affected by gas prices. The amount we are affected, however, is disproportional to the actual cost increase. For example, a $5 monthly increase in gas expenditures feels worse than a $5 increase in our cable bill. The reason seems to be our vulnerability with gas prices; it feels like we have more control over canceling cable than commuting to work. Barring increases in public transportation and alternative energy sources, we typically find ourselves held hostage to gas prices. We are overly sensitive every time we drive by a station only to see the price a few cents higher.

With that it mind, I have been irked by the gas price shenanigans going on in Bishops Corner. Stop by one of the stations and you may be surprised to see an interesting stipulation on their gas prices – there is a higher charge if you are paying by debit or credit card. Yesterday I noticed one station was charging ten cents more a gallon for using a card. Given that we are trained to look for the lowest posted price, I have been duped several times into filling up only to notice afterwards about the actual price per gallon. Is it legal to charge a surcharge for using a debit or credit card?

The answer is no. Besides legality, businesses are prohibited (in their merchant agreement) from having a surcharge for using plastic. The gas stations, however, know the rules and are careful not to break them. The stations get to claim that they are offering a discount for using cash (legal) as opposed to a surcharge for using credit (illegal). They must clearly advertise the price distinction between credit and cash to the average consumer. Is it clear to you?

Personally, I don’t think so. For example, one station advertises their cash price on top of the credit price. The font size for the cash and credit price are exactly the same. Given that we are trained to read left to right, top to bottom, the top price (discount) is the first one I notice. A consumer driving by doesn’t have a long time to read the fine print. I wonder how many people have pulled into a Bishops Corner station without noticing that the lowest advertised price is only for the cash carriers. With current gas prices, I’m curious as to how many people actually fill up their tank and pay in cash?

If I were a politician, I would clarify the consumer protection laws surrounding this gas price distinction. Just because a current tactic is perfectly legal today doesn’t mean that it should be legal tomorrow. Here’s a current example of this: In Louisiana they have popular drive-thru alcoholic daiquiri shops where they will serve an alcoholic drink to the driver. What about “open container” laws? Not to worry, they serve you the straw separately and put a piece of tape over the straw hole. Some folks in Louisiana are now thinking of changing the law to stop this practice. Sounds like a no-brainer – and so does making sure Connecticut consumers are aware of the actual price of gas.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lew Block July 15, 2011 at 02:01 AM
I find this nonsensical. If you are smart enough to write this article, you are smart enough to READ THE SIGN for the prices. Stop whining.
David Ryan Polgar July 15, 2011 at 12:06 PM
Lew: I understand your point. I'm sure a lot of people feel the way you do, and are more libertarian in thought and are worried that we are headed towards a Nanny State. A sign for a gas station is much different from, let's say, an ad in the newspaper. A person does not have a lot of time to notice the smaller font indicating cash versus credit. As much as this can seem like "whining," I imagine that a lot of people also share my frustration. What is the harm in having the signs more clear? If a lot of people are confused by the signs, then isn't it confusing to the reasonable person? We certainly can't protect a person who is being stupid, but I wonder how many people find the current gas station tactics close to deceptive....interesting discussion. I might be really stupid or I might be in the majority on this one...we'll find out....

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