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Sep 16, 2013

No more excuses: Pay before you pump

Minor inconvenience to motorists well worth the safety boost for gas-station workers

By Todd Humber

Last weekend, my wife and I took a trip down to Windsor, Ont., to visit family and friends. On Saturday, we zipped across the border to Detroit to take in some of the sights.

Detroit has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, including its notoriously high crime rate, declining population and impending bankruptcy. But despite the doom and gloom surrounding the Motor City, it still has a lot going for it — and I’m not just saying that because I was born and raised in its shadow.

We spent part of the day wandering the halls of the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is an absolute gem whose collection is second to none, and checking out the Eastern Market, a historic open-air market surrounded by great independent shops and restaurants.

I also stopped to get gas, and that’s when I really knew I was in a foreign land — and not just because the price was lower. Anyone who has ever filled up stateside knows the deal — you have to pay before you pump, no exceptions.

My Canadian credit card wouldn’t work at the pump, so I trudged inside to do a pre-authorization at the till. It was stunning to see the inside of the gas station — it looked like a scaled-down version of Fort Knox. The cashiers were behind bulletproof glass, passing receipts and change through a slot.

The Fort Knox side of things felt like overkill. But the pay-before-you-pump policy is an enlightened one.

We’ve talked about gas stations on numerous occasions over the years in Canadian HR Reporter and Canadian Occupational Safety magazine — almost always for the wrong reasons.

I never begrudge having to pay before I pump in the U.S., because it invariably makes me think of Grant De Patie, a 24-year-old gas station worker in Maple Ridge, B.C., who was killed trying to stop a teenager from driving off with $12.30 worth of gas.

It’s a horrifying story, as De Patie was dragged seven kilometers by the vehicle to his death for what amounts to pocket change.

But De Patie’s death wasn’t for nothing. In the wake of his murder, British Columbia changed its laws, making it mandatory for customers to prepay for gas. It’s impossible to put an exact number on it, but there are workers in B.C. who are alive today — or who weren’t seriously injured — thanks to the legislation.

Unfortunately, the rest of Canada has been too slow to catch up with B.C. and pass legislation that would protect the lives of gas station workers.

Officially, employers can’t deduct stolen gas or merchandise from an employee’s paycheque — it goes against employment standards legislation across the country. Many employers also have a policy in place that explicitly forbids staff from getting involved in thefts.

But that message isn’t getting through or, worse, is being ignored at the local level by employers who are tired of being ripped off. Plus, there’s an instinct to stop wrongdoing at your workplace that can be difficult to turn off, regardless of what a policy from head office says.

Workers have been injured and killed since De Patie. One example: In 2012, Jayesh Prajapati was struck and killed by an SUV in Toronto after it fled a gas station with $112 worth of fuel.

Besides the safety concerns, there are the financial issues facing gas station owners. Jim Murphy, who owns a Canadian Tire gas bar in St. John’s, N.L., told the CBC his location alone loses as much as $5,000 annually to gas-and-dash robberies.

“It’s a little bit of a different change, but it’s not any difficulty to anybody,” Murphy said. “No cost involved to the government, and in fact there should be some cost savings because I won’t have to call the police anymore to report our thefts.”

I don’t want to see Detroit-style Fort Knox conditions for gas station workers. It’s just plain creepy.

But pay before you pump laws should have been enacted across Canada a long time ago. It’s a minor inconvenience to motorists, but it will make a world of difference to worker safety so there will be no more De Paties or Prajapatis putting their lives on the line for nothing.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at or visit for more information.

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U.S. and the postal code
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:22:00 PM by John Hobel
Pre-paying is an idea whose time should have come earlier. There does need to be an option to do so inside the store for it to work properly.
And Brian, I know what you mean about the U.S. I travelled there this summer and the Zip Code issue was very frustrating.
Prepaying for fuel
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 5:25:00 PM by Kristi
When we owned a convenience store and gas station business in British Columbia, before the prepay legislation came in we were losing around $3600 per year in "gas and dash" episodes.

A lot of the time it was a cashier error - a new, young teen working the till on the first job not being confident enough to ask if the customer owed for fuel, or not being aware of who was at the pumps. Or just being plain BUSY at the store like on a typical long weekend Friday afternoon.

The prepay legislation did not eradicate the lost fuel sales, due to computer glitches and other occasional mess-ups (people pre-paying the wrong pump and someone else pumping their fuel, etc), but it greatly reduced the costs.

$3600 a year is a considerable amount when you consider that is coming right off your bottom line - we paid the fuel station corporate office for all pumped fuel, regardless of whether it was paid for or not.

The prepay legislation helped reduce our costs, and also took a lot of the stress off the employees, who (for the most part) felt awful when a fuel loss happened. Better safety was also achieved as we used to have a person assigned to getting license plate numbers on busy days.

By the way, in BC (no idea how the US system works), you can prepay inside the store by putting whatever amount you want over and above your expected fuel up. Your card will only be CHARGED the amount you actually pump. No overcharging of the amount to the total you pre-authorized. Put $200 into the pre-auth inside the store and you can pump your Duramax pickup full with $140 worth of fuel, instead of the pump shutting off at $125.

HOWEVER! It is important to know that the pre-authorized amount will be HELD on your card until the merchant uploads the transactions (usually within 24-48 hours). This means that if you have a low limit card, you are tying up available funds and may not be able to charge other things to your card until the charges are actually posted.

This actually happens at the Pay-at-the-Pump too - different retailers have different limits but most I think are around the $100-150 range. So even if you only pumped $20.00 of fuel, your pre-authorization is tying up $100-150 of credit on every fuel up (until the transactions are uploaded to the credit card company).

The way to get around that: if you know you are only going to pump say $30 of fuel, pre-auth the $30 inside the store.
The credit card trick
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 4:54:00 PM by Todd Humber
Brian -- that's funny. I too have tried punching in 90210 as my postal code. I guess that's the go-to code (at least for us Generation Xers... not sure if the remake is popular?).

I've heard the trick is to use the numerals from your postal code, followed by three zeros. So if your postal code was M1T 3V4, you would punch in 134000 and it supposedly works. Haven't tried that, but that's the urban legend.
Prepaying for fuel for rental cars in the U.S.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013 4:01:00 PM by Brian Kreissl
This is hardly an HR issue, but my biggest pet peeve for having to prepay for fuel in the U.S. relates to rental cars.

You can't pay at the pump because most pumps require a ZIP Code (although I did hear there is a way around this, but I don't remember it). I tried to enter 90210, but it didn't work!

If I go into the gas station, I have to try to guess how much it will be to fill up. If I underestimate, I then have to go and buy more fuel, but who knows what happens if I overestimate? Do I lose the extra money I paid?

We once learned this lesson the hard way after we were about a milimetre away from the "F" mark on the fuel gauge. We got charged, I believe, $60 extra because we didn't fill the tank right up!

It can be pretty annoying - although I do agree that such minor inconveniences are not worth employees having to risk life and limb for.