Sep 16 2008

Texas hurricane triggers (more) gouging in South Carolina

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You gotta love the audacity of gas stations that gouge. Self-fulfilling rumors of a Hurricane Ike-induced run on gasoline gave stations every reason to jack up their prices in the Sumter, SC area.

I didn’t see much of it firsthand as I decided to tour Gettysburg’s civil war park for most of the week. Yet the aftereffects lingered at my return. When I pulled in last night, I found the Shell station at the corner of routes 378 & 441 with diesel at $4.29 even though the big-rig Kangaroo station sold it for 42¢ less. Sometime today, Shell (reluctantly?) lowered diesel to $3.99, still 12¢ above Kangaroo.

If I owned a gas station and my tanks ran dry, I’d lower my prices by a dime to make my com­pe­ti­tors suffer for their own gouging…

But hey, 42¢ is nothing around here. I grilled a source who insists she saw a “Solo” station on south Route 15 near Lakewood above $5 for regular on Saturday at 10am. (Caveat: my source couldn’t remember the exact price.) One blog insists Sumter’s gouging reached $5.23; another blog gripes about $5+ prices in Sumter.

In related news, South Carolina’s attorney general issued subpoenas for accounting records for twelve gas stations including at least one in Sumter county.

Gas rations continue in Sumter as of tonight. I found a “ten gallon” limit at the Carolina Petro station on Route 441 near the Shaw AFB gate as of 7pm. They gouged $4.09 for regular yesterday night when I reported it to GasBuddy.com; it remained so at 6:45am but it went down 10¢ by 5:20pm.

“Maybe Carolina Petro took on another load of gas today, Rob.” I doubt it. The BP station one block up sold out its reservoir by simply taking in 10¢ less than the gougers. Petro’s rationing leads me to surmise they’re still waiting for an “Eagle” tanker to gallop in with a cavalry of gasoline.

Kudos to BP (this time) for going dry. After all — you can only sell a gallon of gas once, right?


In all fairness, that BP station now has a problem. In draining their tanks, they’ve lost a profitable “impulse crowd” that buys soda pop & potato chips.

A ten-gallon ration actually makes sense when gouging — the more panicky customers who flow through your station, the more impulse sales you make. It wouldn’t surprise me if small gas stations need walk-in sales to stay afloat.

Rationing also makes sense for a second reason. If you’ve still got gas during an uptick, you can raise prices on your remaining supply.

But let’s not feel too bad for BP. On the plus side, customers siphoned sludge from the bottom of their tanks. And the splashing from a new load of Invigorate™ will dissolve more sludge into the mix. Let’s hope the station’s pump filters catch it all, eh?

Hmmm. You know… If I owned a gas station and my tanks ran dry, I’d lower my prices by a dime to make my competitors suffer for their own gouging:

Customer: “hey dude, the BP station one block up sells for ten cents less per gallon.”
Attendant: “so go there and buy it why don’t you.”
Customer: “I did and they’re out.”
Attendant: “mister, are you gonna buy gas or what?”
Customer: “why won’t the pump take my credit card?”
Attendant: “because there’s a ten gallon limit and it’s cash only right now. Give me $53.29 and I’ll turn the pump on. And no, we don’t accept bills larger than $20…”

Okay, so here’s my prediction. When the next hurricane blows through, we’ll see more gas stations here in Sumter with ten-gallon limits and a cash-only policy.

If you thought “pay at the pump” was the wave of the future, think again. If you thought greenbacks would go the way of the Dodo bird, think again…

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