Prepayment for gas growing in local area

R.R. Branstrom Daily Press Vehicles are parked at the pumps at Circle K in Escanaba, formerly Holiday. The gas station moved to pre-pay only to reduce theft of fuel at its pumps recently. It is a policy that is becoming the norm.

ESCANABA –Last week, a local gas station began implementing a new policy that is becoming the norm. Still, it stirred some contention among local residents when the Circle K in Escanaba, formerly Holiday, moved to pre-pay only to reduce theft of fuel at its pumps. Prior to Wednesday, May 1, the gas station at 700 N. Lincoln Rd. was one of the few holdovers that still allowed customers to fill their tanks prior to paying.

Now, payment must be made first: either by card at the pump, or by heading inside and giving the cashier card or cash, a case which may require returning to the counter a second time to collect change after fueling. People who prefer to use cash argue that this is inconvenient and consumes too much time.

Ray Dishno, an Escanaba resident who drives a large pickup truck and travels extensively for work, says it’s impractical to wait in line twice. Most of the time, he prefers to fill up completely, rather than just handing over a set amount of cash and have the pump shut off when it reaches that amount.

“They’ve got cameras; they can see people’s faces and see their license plates,” said Dishno, arguing that for this reason, “If you have a regular customer who you know, turn the pump on for them.”

With cameras now so widely used, video footage regularly captures faces, vehicle types, license plates, and behavior.

When the Escanaba Public Safety Department receives calls from gas stations reporting drive-offs — incidents in which vehicles leave the premises after taking gas without paying — they review footage in order to identify the offenders and also intent, said Captain Darren Smith. It is then up to the business owner whether to press charges or be satisfied with payment.

As more and more gas stations have been moving to pre-pay, though, the opportunity for this type of larceny or fraud — it can be considered either, Smith said — has been greatly diminished. Local police used to receive complaints of these types of incidents multiple times a day; now it’s closer to once a week.

“Obviously, prepaying, there is no option to do it,” said Smith. “So those ones (gas stations that have moved to pre-pay only) go from having a lot of them to zero.”

The shift to pre-pay only is not just a practice decided upon by big-city corporations.

Krist Oil Company, which is based in the Upper Peninsula and markets itself as “Your Northwoods Neighborhood Store,” has been pre-pay at all locations since 2020. Employees said that prior to that, drive-offs were a serious problem.

While a company’s risks are managed by a pre-pay only policy, some residents argue that it harms customers with disabilities, children, or other issues that make each trip into a store difficult. However, paying at the pump remains an option.

“Unless you’re a cash-only person, I don’t see what the big deal is,” said Mitchell Johnson of Escanaba. “Pay at the pump with your card. If you pay ahead of time inside the store, just put more money than you think you need to fill up on your pump. Anything left over will just go back on your card.”

Those who do pay cash and find it difficult to walk back and forth between store and pump multiple times might consider patronizing full-service stations, like Driftwood, located at 120 Stevenson Ave. At such operations, customers remain in their vehicles while attendants speak to drivers through the window and pump fuel for them. Both cash and card are accepted for whatever amount the total may be.

There are still a handful of fueling stations that allow customers to pump first, including Carne’s ECO Fuels at 2300 Lincoln Rd. in Escanaba, Mobil at 2010 Lake Shore Drive in Gladstone, The Store, 901 S. Lincoln Road, Escanaba, and North Bluff Grocery at 6287 M-35 in Gladstone.


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