Big Apple’s drivers might soon see a new element on gas stations’ road signs: information about what it would cost to buy a gallon of gasoline in cash as opposed to using a credit card. Right now, many gas stations in the city only show cash prices.
The gas station bill, introduced by Council Member Lewis D. Fidler, would require all gas stations in New York to install new road signs that would clearly indicate the difference in prices. Most customers now only see tiny signs by the pumps. Fidler wants the customer to be clear that there is a difference in prices.
“That way consumers can make an educated decision before they fill up their gas tank,” Fidler said.
The City Council unanimously approved the bill last Wednesday. It will take effect 120 days after being signed into law. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the bill early next week. In Brooklyn, similarly to other boroughs, there is a custom of charging drivers 10 cents more per gallon when they use credit cards. It is against the state law to burden customers with additional fees if they use credit cards. But the law has a loophole—businesses can give discounts to the customers who pay cash, which is basically the same thing.
“You come in, you buy $50 worth of gas and we lose a dollar on this transaction,” said Rich Nacmias, an owner of a Mobil gas station on Coney Island Avenue. He said that he charges two different prices because credit card companies charge him 2 to 4 percent fees per transaction.
“With the price being 10 cents higher it evens out,” he said. “The customers pay that difference.”
The bill will not change that practice, but will force station owners to put up road signs that clarify the difference in prices and would no longer mislead drivers.
The 10 cents difference on a gallon of gasoline depending on the method of payment doesn’t shock most Brooklynites. In fact, all 13 gas stations along one Brooklyn Stereet, Coney Island Avenue, followed that policy. Last Tuesday, all road signs showed that the price of regular gasoline per gallon was $3.75 or $3.79, depending on the station, but if the driver chose to pay with credit card, the price jumped to exactly 10 cents more per gallon.
“I already know how it works,” said Nicholas Martinez, 32, an editor at the Department of Education, who used his Visa card to pay for a full tank of gas at a BP station on Coney Island Avenue Tuesday afternoon. “When I’m approaching the station I do the calculation. Now it would be more convenient.”
Surprisingly, the gas station owners and managers support the bill.
“It’s going to be safer for the workers,” said Muhammad Tazeem, 25, a manager of another BP gas station, who said that most people don’t realize that the price on the sign is just for cash transactions. “People argue a lot,” he said.
Tazeem said that 60 percent of his customers pay cash, but the rest seem to not know the common practice of charging more on credit card transactions. They often look at the receipt and then complain about it—and often those complaints transform into verbal fights. Sometimes formal complaints are filed with city officials.
“I had an inspection last week,” Tazeem said referring to a visit by a worker from the Department of Consumer Affairs. “Somebody complained (to them.)”
Izzy Daniel, a manager at another BP station in Coney Island Avenue, approves of the new bill, for the most part. But he adds that it is going to cost him money to comply.
“The customer has a right to know what he’s paying for,” Daniel said, adding that the road signs his station now has are too small to put additional numbers on them. Replacing or expanding the sign is an expense that the small station doesn’t want to deal with.
“If BP comes out and provides you with the sign then it’s fair,” he said. Two years ago, he added, a city regulation forced station owners to put a sticker with a word “cash” next to the price on the road sign. He did it, but the owner had to buy the sticker himself. It cost $10.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “Some stations still don’t have the sticker.”
Fidller said that this argument isn’t valid.
“Option is theirs. They could put bigger signs or choose not to charge different prices,” he said.
Jack Nacmias, doesn’t put two different prices on the road sign at his Sunoco gas station because he doesn’t want to stick out. All stations nearby only display the cash prices. So, he argues, that if he put the credit card price on the sign, customers would automatically assume that the gas at his station is more expensive.
Nacmias said that it would change once all other stations nearby changed their signs—and everyone would make the changes since it would be required by law.
“It might be even good for the business,” he said. “Now I’m going to push more customers to open Sunoco credit cards.”
Branded credit cards at all stations work just like cash— the gas stations are not charged the credit card fees and the customer gets the cheaper gas.
“It’s another regulation that you have to deal with,” Nacmias said. “You just got to go with the flow. That’s what the New York City is.”