Gas driveoffs force prepaying to pump|[7/07/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 7, 2005

Drivers leaving gas pumps without paying have forced one of Vicksburg’s major convenience store operators to require cash customers to pay before pumping.

Richard Waring of Waring Oil Co., which owns six Interstate convenience stores in Vicksburg, one in Delta. La., and across Mississippi, said the policy became effective Friday. He said the change followed a survey of major competitors in the area and trying the policy in company stores on the Gulf Coast.

The policy affects only those customers who pay with cash or a check.

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“Our pumps have card readers, and credit card customers can still activate the pumps,” Waring said.

He said customers filling their tanks have two options, giving the clerk more than enough to pay for the fuel and getting change or estimate the cost before pumping.

John Moak, owner of Moak Petroleum, said he is considering using the same policy at his five Vicksburg locations. He is, however, requiring prepayment at a location on the Gulf Coast.

With 47 stores across the state and others in Louisiana, Waring said the loss is enormous but declined to give a total figure.

“It’s too much to ignore,” Waring said.

As an example, he said, the six stores in Vicksburg average losses of $200 per month per store while on the Gulf Coast the average is $500 per month per store.

When the pay-before-pumping policy was put into effect on the Gulf Coast a couple of weeks ago, Waring said drive-off losses dropped to zero.

Vicksburg Police records show 431 driveoffs reported this year. Through June, the city averaged 71.5 a month, about 2.4 a day.

“That’s a lot,” Police Chief Tommy Moffett said.

Last year’s statistics from the Vicksburg Police Department indicated 800 to 900 driveoffs reported. The number for 2003 was about 1,300.

The Warren County Sheriff’s Department said it had received reports of 25 gas driveoffs between Jan. 1 and May 31 of this year. The department reported 130 driveoffs in 2004.

Moffett said he fully supported Waring’s effort.

“It can give the appearance that Waring is not being customer-friendly when in fact they are simply being more responsible,” Moffett said.

Freanderia Coleman of Vicksburg is one of the customers who discovered the new policy when she stopped at the Texaco Interstate No. 4, 3060 Indiana Ave.

She agreed that the policy will be a deterrent to gas driveoffs.

Driving off without paying is normally a misdemeanor but the fine could be up to $273 and the offender may lose a license to drive.

The Kangaroo stations in the Vicksburg area, operated by The Pantry Inc. of Sanford, N.C., have a modified pay-before-pumping policy. At stations with more than one line of pumps, customers using the pumps farthest from the store must pay before pumping after dark.

Moffett said gas driveoffs could be eliminated if all gas retailers would follow Waring’s lead.

“We applaud them and I can assure you that because of their efforts we’ll see a significant reduction in the number of driveoffs,” Moffett said.