As gasoline prices hover near records, businesses and lawmakers are taking steps to try to stop drivers who pump and don't pay, according to a report in USA Today
on July 27.It's a serious issue that gets worse as prices rise. The national average price for a gallon of unleaded regular gas is nearly $1.93, the Energy Department reported Monday, about 40 cents higher than a year ago. In 2003, gas station owners lost $112 million in pump-and-runs, up about $10 million from 2001. That amounts to more than $1,000 per store lost last year, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). It's also an issue for local police, who sometimes spend hours investigating the thefts, which are often difficult to track. "The gasoline thefts are absolutely out of control," says Mike Thornbrugh, manager of public and government affairs at Tulsa-based QuikTrip. He says in its last fiscal year, which ended in May, QuikTrip lost $4 million in gas thefts, up $1 million from the prior year, in just the Tulsa area. The firm runs 433 stations in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Georgia, Texas and Arizona.QuikTrip is testing a program at one of its Tulsa stores that requires drivers who want to pay cash to submit their driver's license numbers to cashiers. Drivers are then given a card with their information on it to swipe every time before they pump gas. Without the card, the pump will not turn on. Those using credit cards do not need the new cards. About half of gas purchases are cash, the other half on credit or debit cards, according to the NACS. "If for some reason you forget to pay, we'll know who you are," Thornbrugh says. Thousands of the cards have been issued in less than a month. So far, no one has driven away from the station without paying, Thornbrugh says. What others are doing: Earlier this year, Mount Pleasant, S.C., made prepaying mandatory at all gas stations for those paying with cash, to free police officers, who sometimes spend hours investigating gas theft cases that often are hard to solve. Milwaukee is to vote in September to make prepay mandatory.