Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Perfect Gas Station

What is wrong with San Francisco? Besides all those other things you just thought of? I'll tell you - gas stations. I mean, the actual, physical setup of the structure and the odd amenities offered and not offered.

Ok, sure, there are plenty of wonderful attributes to this city I moved to almost two and a half months ago. But for all the fuss about reducing my carbon footprint and using public transit, sometimes I need to still drive my car to get to far away places or locations that public transit doesn't connect.

Besides, San Francisco is one of the most dense cities in the US - the streets are lined with cars that need to be taken care of and also need fuel.

Enter the confusing and inept world of SF gas stations.

Statement of disclosure: I have only been to four different stations in the city so far. I know an n=4 isn't great, but it's enough to get my complaints!

#1 why do you advertise the CASH price and not the credit? Because you want to trick me to your station, then laugh when I don't have cash. I never knew there was such a thing as gas CASH vs. gas CREDIT price. I had NEVER paid for gas with cash until I moved to this city. For those who don't know, the credit price is 30 cents more expensive PER GALLON!

#2 Why must you have payment "islands" instead of letting me pay at the fuel pump like every other gas station? Everyone must crowd around a central computing unit, and there are a surprising number of old ladies and foreign nationals that are confused by the endeavor.

#3 Why have a fee for using a debit card? Credit cards already charge me 30 cents extra PER GALLON! And if you don't have cash, you must pay a fee to use your debit card. Is this more incentive to pay with cash? Is there a big financial benefit for you to do this?

#4 Why do you have flat screen TVs at the pump but now towels or fluid so that I can wash my windshield? I thought that was one of the main staples at gas stations across the country - apparently not in San Francisco.

These are just a few of my frustrations in dealing with SF gas stations so far. If you have the answers to these, or any other quirky questions about gas stations on the left coast, please let me know. Otherwise, I will let you know when I find the first all-organic gas station. Oh, wait a minute...


Anonymous said...

Re: #1. Several thoughts.

(a) When a company charges a credit card, the credit authorization service bills that company. The price varies greatly depending on volume, but 7 cents/dollar is pretty normal. Thus, when you pay with cash, the company actually loses money. There are a number of ways around this: offering two separate prices is one. Another is to charge everyone the "credit" price and get extra profit when people pay cash. This will work as long as everyone does that, but the minute someone else puts a sign up that is 7 cents cheaper, guess who'll be getting the business?

(b) Europeans who come to America feel the same way about how we do sales taxes. "Why would you list the price of a product and then charge me more when I go to the cash register? If you already know what the tax rate is, why not just include it in the price like we do? Trickery!" Californians are used to it. You're not. Cultural shift. Deal. (FYI, in New Jersey and Oregon, you can't pump your own gas. It must be done by an attendant.)

(c) Because people will pay it. Paying cash saves you $3 - $5 per trip, but it is also less convenient. It's up to the consumer to decide whether the convenience of carrying a credit card and sailing through the is worth a Starbucks drink. Your complaint basically amounts to "Why, for 25-cents more, do I get 100% more soda and a free refill at movie theaters? Why not just give it to me at a lower price?"

Anonymous said...

Re: #2. I'm not sure, but I wonder if it has something to do with California job-protection laws of some kind. I did a few searches, but I can't find any.

It may simply be that gas stations in California have even lower margins than elsewhere in the country so they haven't been able to afford to upgrade their pumps. For example, almost HALF of California's gas stations were on the verge of being shut down last year when they hadn't paid to install "green" nozzles as mandated by California Law. (See

My last thought is that they're trying to force you to consider purchasing things other things that have higher margins (candy, chips, soda, coffee).

Anonymous said...

Re: #3. Sames as #1. Banks charge fees to companies processing debit cards. Companies pass that cost to you in the form of a fee. This is no different then going to a Wachovia ATM when you have Bank of America (or visa versa).

Anonymous said...

Re: #4.

Ahh, Matt. You thought yourself so cultured and international, and now you're finding that parts of your own country have standards and expectations that, well, aren't standard or expected to you. That's why I've never felt a great loss at never having left the US. There's a myriad of cultures here. It's not--as some feel it is or ought to be--a monoculture.

If you check those Flat Screen TVs, you'll see they're energy star compliant, I'll wager. And at $600/TV or $15/box of paper towels, how long do you think it'll be until the paper towels + water + soap + wiper blades cost more than the TVs?

Cookulacrates said...

HA! Thanks for your answers - very helpful indeed. As for #4, but I can't use the TVs for washing my car! I had always relied on a service station having equipment for me to keep my driving sight clear to make the roads safer - at gas stations without this equipment, it seems as if they're failing at their job - however, the TVs would be appropriate if in the short amount of time watching them while pumping gas, I could learn something ... and IF THAT WAS THE GOAL OF GAS STATIONS, TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC.

Cookulacrates said...

Oh - and I became aware of the gas attendant pumping gas for you in NJ about 5 years ago. Was a little scared when I started to get out of the car and he yelled for me to stay inside ... wasn't quite sure what was going on.