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.