Should Customers Pay For Air?

Gas stations in Connecticut are being called out for disobeying a law that says it’s illegal for motorists to pay for air in the state, The Day reported.

Across the nation, gas stations have been adding coin-operated air compressors for the customers to use to inflate tires, but while Connecticut stations are allowed to use the coin-operated compressors after hours, during business hours they are required to provide free air. A rule some stations reportedly ignore. 

In addition, retailers that sell at least 10,000 gallons of fuel a month, which includes just about all stations in the state, are required to post a sign in a “conspicuous location” stating that free air is available, noted Claudette Carveth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Consumer Protection.

Many longtime service-station owners support the law.

“It’s just a little something you can give back to the customer,” said Michael Olsen, owner of the Hess station in Waterford.

“People buy their gasoline, and they should be allowed free air,” added Dick Gada, owner of Guy’s Oil in Niantic.

However, a check of about a dozen gas stations in the area shows that about half of the businesses fail to post adequate signage advertising free air, while others post confusing signs that leave customers unsure if they are required to pay.

Frank Greene, director of the Consumer Protection Department’s division of food and standards, told The Day his agency actively checks gas stations for compliance with the free-air law, but also depends on consumer complaints. The state receives only about 10 complaints a year about stations not offering free air, he added.

That shows the state needs to do a better job advertising the free-air law to consumers and to businesses, Carveth noted.

Those caught violating the law can be ticketed and forced to pay a $50 fine, while repeat violators face possible loss of their licenses to dispense gasoline. Greene said his agency generally gives stations 10 days to resolve an issue.

“Connecticut and California are the only two states that currently have this requirement for the provision of free air,” Greene said. “There have been numerous attempts by industry to repeal the free air law.”

Jeff Lenard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, said coin-operated machines became popular nationwide about five years ago, after Hurricane Katrina lifted gas prices to new records approaching $5 a gallon. Consumers took out their frustration over high prices on gas stations’ equipment, including air hoses, he said.

Olsen, the Hess service station owner, said the switch to coin-operated machines has been led by convenience-store gas stations that work off small margins and try to make money any way they can.

“It’s a sign of the times,” he said. “It’s not like your grandfather’s service station anymore.”

 

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