Gassing up? Read the fine print
When his dentist started charging different rates for charge and cash payments, Joe Gerrior of Hanson changed dentists.
Likewise, Gerrior says, he doesn’t usually buy gas at Super Premium on Route 58 in Hanson, where there were two prices for a gallon of regular gas this week — $3.41 “cash” or $3.47 for what the station called “Std.”
Some customers have been lured to the station by the lower price, posted in large print on the roadside sign, only to learn they had paid several cents more per gallon for a credit card purchase.
“What does ‘Std.’ mean?” asked Paul Slaver, chairman of the Massachusetts Consumers Coalition. “It sounds like they’re doing it wrong.”
The sign is misleading, Gerrior agreed as he looked at it and wondered just what “std.” means. It clearly doesn’t say “credit.”
Dual pricing is not new, but has not been common for many years. Now, as gas prices surge to historic highs with no end in sight, gas retailers are taking measures to remain competitive.
Gasoline reached its highest recorded price ever on Wednesday, with self-serve regular averaging $3.44 a gallon in Boston, according to AAA.
Some stations have eliminated credit cards all together, rather than pay the 6 percent to 8 percent service charge. Others, like Super Premium, offer different prices for cash or credit.
But the state says the differences must be clear to consumers. And “std.” is not a term that consumers may easily recognize.
No one associated with Super Premium would explain the term on Tuesday. The clerk on duty referred all questions to the owner and manager. The owner, identified only as Mike, did not return a telephone call. The manager, Joe Dieudonne, said he was too busy to talk when reached by telephone.
The station is midway between larger chain-operated gas stations, Cumberland Farms in Halifax and Hess in Hanson. Both offer one price for cash and credit sales, by far the most common practice throughout the area, both at full-service and self-serve stations.
Discounts were offered for cash sales at gas stations some 15 years ago, but the practice faded until the past year when gas prices skyrocketed, said Paul O’Connell, president of the New England Service Station and Repair Association.
He said credit card costs for merchants are based on sales, and therefore retailers are trying to pass on the savings of cash sales to customers.
“Gas prices tripled, so haven’t credit fees,” O’Connell said, noting that 75 percent of gas sales are paid by credit card.
The state Division of Standards requires that different prices for cash and credit be clearly stated and posted on the gas pumps. A clerk at the agency’s complaint line said there have been some complaints about dual pricing, but most are from consumers who have not paid attention to signs.
Slaver, of the Massachusetts Consumers Coalition, said the law is clear: You can discount for cash but you can’t surcharge for credit. Though the mathematical outcome is the same, the advertised and posted differences must be clear, he said.
“The price on the pump should be the regular selling price,” Slaver said.
Most stations still take credit cards and charge the same for cash or credit.
“It’s all the same price today, $3.37 a gallon,” said the clerk at Diamond Fuel in Whitman. At Rapid Refill in Bridgewater, the posted price applies to both cash and credit sales, the clerk said.
Brockton gas station owner Ronen Drory said he solved the problem by offering only cash sales.
“We stopped taking credit cards a month ago,” said Drory, owner of Prestige Gas and Mini-Mart, on Warren Avenue.
Elaine Allegrini can be reached at email@example.com.