As the price of gas approached $4 a gallon last month, thousands of
station owners across the nation were faced with another problem
besides just the high price. According to an article in the New York Times, many stations, most of them independently owned, have older pumps that are unable to go above $3.99 per gallon.
The solution? According to the article, one station owner in Queens had to price his gas by the half-gallon, just as station owners did when gas prices skyrocketed a generation ago.
"Some people say I got the cheapest prices in town" until they see the receipt, said Gary Staiano, 50, who has been pumping gas since he was a teenager and remembers when it rose above $1 a gallon for the first time in the 1970s.
Gas stations must apply with their state's Department of Weights and
Measures for permission to sell in these volumes and must prove they
have ordered new pump computers that can handle prices up to $9.99 a
According to the article by Ken Belson, "The gauges in the older gas pumps are computers but look more like the innards of an old adding machine or cuckoo clock. Gears of different sizes spin at different speeds depending on the digits they represent. Station attendants flick tabs to change the digits, which are written on hard black rubber spools."
New pump computers cost about $400 each and there is a backlog of up to 17 weeks for the replacement machines from various companies; the article reports New York officials expect half-gallon pricing to be around for about five months. "It's an interim fix to this problem," said Jessica Chittenden, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets. "There is a national shortage of these computing devices." It's still a cheaper fix than buying new pumps: digital pumps that accept credit cards and sell multiple brands of fuel can cost as much as $15,000 each.
So, if you're taking a summer road trip and stumble across an independent station selling gas at a price that appears too good to be true, double check the volume. You might be buying half-gallons.
By Brandy Schaffels