Gas prices change in Palm Beach County

Misleading advertisement may come to end

Sticker shock at the pump may come to an end in Palm Beach County next year after years of complaints over cash and credit pricing.

The Consumer Watchdog obtained documents that show consumers have been complaining in Palm Beach County about confusing gas station signs since 2009, but nothing was done until the Watchdog began fighting for you.

Pricing problems at the pump.

"I'm still finding out the tricks," said driver Donna Kish.

Roadside signs often advertise cash prices, but you don't always find out until you play with plastic at the pump.

"It's really unfair to the average consumer to purposely mislead us," said Kish.

That misleading advertisement may come to an end early next year.

"I've been fooled myself," said Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche.

After the Consumer Watchdog began asking questions, Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche asked the county to study the problem.

Now, he's writing an ordinance that would regulate how stores can advertise the price of gas.

"I'm pretty confident my fellow commissioners will pass this," said Valeche.

The new rules would require more transparency. The roadside sign would have to list the highest price. It can also have a cash price, under one condition.

"What we are going to require is the cash aspect of it be as large as the price itself so it should be evident to people who are passing by," said Valeche.

It's similar to a Broward County ordinance that's been in effect for more than a year. Complaints are down there, but the new rules were challenged in court by a Ft. Lauderdale BP gas station that said new signs would cost $30,000.

The gas station voluntarily dropped its lawsuit a short time later when the two parties came to an agreement on an acceptable sign.

"There might be a little additional cost but I think its worth it," said Valeche.

Drivers like the idea of an ordinance too.

"I would be thrilled. I want to know what is on the signs is what i am paying at the pump," said Kish.

This ordinance should be introuduced to the county commission in January.

The Petroleum Markerters & Convenience Store Association said it's working with the state to get more uniform signs, but it's expensive to change the roadside signs especially for a mom and pop station whose profit margins are already small. The association said 58% of convenience stores in Florida are mom and pop shops.

The trade group said a station makes more money from a cup of coffee than a 12 gallon fill-up.

It feels it's anti-competitive for an ordinance restricting which gas price a store posts on its sign. It feels stations should be able to advertise that they pass on the savings with using cash to customers. The agency said the real issue is with the credit card companies.

The agency feels 8 or 10 inch cash letters suffice and should make it clear to drivers that the station offers a cash discount.

We'll follow the progress of this proposed ordinance.
 

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