Saturday, June 28, 2008

Gas Wars

A rational individual would be at the ball park rooting for our San Angelo Colts in a clutch game, but when exactly did I claim to be rational? That I leave to the readers' evaluation.

Item 14 on City Council Agenda this Tuesday is ..."consideration of an Ordinance requiring customers to pre-pay for gasoline/diesel fuel purchases". Before we get specific, let me make plain my position lest I be seen as biased: no, No, and if that is unclear, Hell No!

Drive-off theft has become an issue as gas prices rise. Asst. Chief Hollway on KLST's "Top of the Morning" show left me with the sense an actual Ordinance was about to be proposed, but this item Tuesday is "discussion", not an action item. My opinion, this is a business decision, to be made by the business owning the gasoline.

Let's say such an Ordinance has been passed. The driver wanting to fill up would have to go inside, wait on line, leave a deposit; then go out, pump an unspecified amount, go back in, wait on line and get change from the deposit. Not exactly "in and out in two minutes", as a predominant local chain advertizes.

Hypothetical: the store clerk looks out and sees his wife at the pump, turns it on without she comes in with cash. Does he get the ticket, the store, his wife, or all three? There being no actual Ordinance on the table, let me guess; none of the above. The Ordinance would primarily allow a retailer to require "pre-pay", post a notice on the pump, and blame it on the City Council instead of their own decision.

Now this is a real problem. With gas at $4 a gallon, we are seeing an increase in drive-offs. Frankly, if I owned a business selling gas, I would be tempted to go pre-pay. Otra vez, if my businesss were mainly local and familiar, I might want to advertize my convenience against a more general retailer requiring the pre-pay two-step. A more suspicious mind than mine might suspect that a major retailer wanted to go "pre-pay" without appearing unfriendly by forcing all outlets to abide by that level of distrust.

Asst. Chief Holloway mentioned 300 drive-offs without specifying the time frame. If indeed some retailers are using the SAPD as a "collection agent" for drive-offs, perhaps that problem could be addressed by the same means as alarm calls. Set a reasonable number, if the outlet exceeds that number, it gets charged a fee for running down the thief. The Dept. has not been aggressive on false alarms, last I heard they were collecting about 20%, but I know my local watering hole redid it's system after being cited.

To my mind, this bit of policy is similar to the smoking Ordinance idea. Unlike most cities, San Angelo does not have a private business smoking rule, we leave it to the judgement of the business owner (What a Concept). Over 90% of businesses prohibit smoking, as do all gov't offices by Ordinance. Beer-joints and tobacco shops still get to cater to their largely smoking clientele, but the non-smoking majority is able to avoid the evil nicotine by choice.

I've had people accuse me of abandoning the Republican Party, others think I am a "loose cannon on deck", where I really am is until a convincing case can be made otherwise, gov't should LEAVE US ALONE!

Stay tuned for Gas Wars: Part ll.


  1. Cousin Ryan:

    What we should have here is choice on the part of the vendors of petroleum products for general consumption by folks like thee and myself. If these vendors choose to eschew the pre-pay option and run the risk of drive-offs, let them do it. It should be up to them to determine if they want to see their overall cost of doing business go up because some deadbeat chooses to drive away without paying for his/her fuel. By the way, I consider these deadbeats to be thieves, pure and simple. I wish they all could be caught and suffer for what they do.

    I personally like pre-pay for its convenience. I stick my card in the machine, decide what flavor of fuel I want to put in my long-suffering ride (146,000 miles and counting), and pump away. If a particular purveyor of petroleum distillates does not allow this (like out in the most remote boontoolies of this state that I love), I do what is required. I deal with it.

    As you say, this thing is rather like anti-smoking ordinances. I personally loathe being around smokers, since they stink up everything in a radius of tens of yards. With that said, a business should be allowed to choose the environment it promotes. Here in the Metroplex I know where I can go to have a civilized meal without being encapsulated in an area that smells like an ashtray that hasn't been emptied for weeks. I frequent those places. I avoid the others.

    Shouldn't the whole bloody argument be about choice?


  2. Ex_Pat; personally, I drive a propane pickup, only buy gas for the lawnmower and chainsaw. Day job, I probably buy $1,000 a week in Gascard diesel, so this affects me roughly zip-diddly. BTW, keep working on it, my 77 halfton is middle of third time around. It has the huge advantage of being paid for. Also, as I have posted before, propane has soared to an unconciounable $2.53 a gallon. More than makes up for a 15% btu disadvantage.

    My side of town, the check cashing parlors do a thriving business, a lot of good neighbors wouldn't know what a debit card looks like, they would be stuck with the pre-pay two-step. In fine point of fact, if it were my gasoline, they would probably be stuck with it, but that would be my choice; not the city's.

    An advantage of driving haz-mat vehicles all these years; I still smoke, but I have no problem completing a retail transaction or a meal, or a half a shift without firing up. Actually, about the hardest thing for me to do without smoking is write; which I do in the privacy of my own home.

    I suspect you might like my next bit on temperature compensated retail fuel sales. "Hot fuel" is about to get hot at $4 a gallon.

  3. How do people do this? Don't most
    service stations and convenience
    stores require that you put a card
    of some type in the pump or pay inside first. Seems to be we are
    overexaggerating something that
    could not occur. Why are we always
    so ready to call people thieves when perhaps this is not even occurring.

  4. Anon, you must not get out much. There are plenty of service stations in town that don't require pre-payment. There are others that only require it after dark, or during busy holiday seasons. Murphy gas (at the WalMarts) even has a sign on their pumps about pumping first, pay when you finish. There are gas drive offs happening. It is an issue. It should a business owners decision as to whether the loss is made up by increased customer satisfaction, convenience, time saving, etc.. The government is already making too many decisions that should be individual. Let's not increase their intrusions.

  5. Anon; As JWT pointed out, more stations than not allow pump first. Town & Country went pay first over Memorial Day, I'm guessing they got some customer resistance.

    This is a real problem. Asst Chief Holloway did not invent the 300 figure if he was a bit unspecific as to time frame. There really are people living that "close to the bone". It's still theft, not excusing it, but the problem is real. A store might want to lay on a spare hand or it might want to go pre-pay, but that decision should be the company's.

  6. I have seen the drive offs first hand. According to store employees, they are held responsible if they let it happen. There are a variety of methods one can use. One method is using a stolen card, and/or bringing this card in for the store employee to hold while they pump the gas. Another method I saw, was creating confusion physically at the pump. One car pulls up and blocks the view or someone pulls up to a pump while it is still authorized.

    I'm not sure of how you execute all the details, but thank God, I wasn't born with the criminal mind and thankful I can still afford to pay.

    On an end note..I see the Standard Times has returned comments. Out of curiosity, I have already looked up a few names, managed to get their street address, and home phone number. I don't intent to use any of that information, but I was curious. Basically, all you need do is look up an old story that still has the users name posted. From there, google away. I found out a couple peoples names I always wondered about, and I wonder if they know they are out in the open now.

  7. Anonymous of July 5; as to the S-T site, check a little closer. We have a dead Party Chair of the USSR, "Nicky Kruchshev", several people under dubious posted names.

    None of this is a problem for me, I've always been up front about which Jim Ryan I am (there are at least three real, birth-certificate James Ryans in San Angelo), the site belongs to S-T, they pay the freight, they set the rules. Whether they choose to effectively enforce the rules they set is their concern, not mine.