Station Tries to Stem Drive-offs with Prepay

By: Dana Brueck
By: Dana Brueck

A spike in the price of fuel often means a spike in drive-offs for local gas stations. Many operate on an honor system -- fill up, then pay up.
But a number of dishonorable customers can mean a new way of doing business for everybody else.
Marlene Erickson, a customer at a Madison station, says "I come here all of the time and when they have that sign up prepay, I thought why?"
The store's manager says blame the people who fill up, without paying up.
Manager Linda Dean says, "This store had major losses for drive-offs."
The National Association of Convenience Stores estimates that drive-offs cost the industry nearly 240 million dollars last year.
That's an average of more than $2, 000 per store.
"We had one yesterday, one the day before," Dean says.
One remedy ... forcing customers to check out before putting gas in their tank.
This Madison Stop 'N' Go switched all but two of its pumps to prepay.
"We're all going to prepay for the furthest pumps that we can't see and we do use binoculars for the ones we can," Dean says of her store.
But the manager says "prepay" can fuel mixed reactions from customers.
"I think it's a good idea because people shouldn't ride off with gas anyway," Joey Bennett says.
Andrew Dybevik says, "I'm never really sure how much gas I'm gonna get and if I do prepay I might not let go of lever in time."
John Esser says, "If you prepay, it doesn't allow you to fill up ... have to go in and say I want this specific amount."
Marlene Erickson says, "It's always a guess when you prepay."
But guess who's likely to pick up the cost when thieves leave a bill?
The average customer, who pays in higher prices at the pump.
"One guy actually got out of his car and smiled and waved at manager and drove on off because he had no plates on his car," Dean says.
One expert says drive-offs hurt retailers because they make very little on each gallon of gas sold and still pay state taxes on stolen gasoline.

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