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Nebraska Bill Targets Fuel-Price 'Bait and Switch'

Legislation would forbid deceptive advertising at price sign

OMAHA, Neb. -- Imagine seeing gasoline offered at a bargain price on a fuel-price sign. You pull into the gas station, only to find that this low-priced fuel is available at only one pump—and there are already a dozen customers waiting in line ahead of you to buy it.

Nebraska state Sen. John McCollister ran into this scenario last summer at a North Platte, Neb., c-store. He ended up driving off to find another gas station, the Omaha World-Herald reports, and decided to introduce legislation to prevent it from happening again.

Legislative bill 477 (LB 477) would, among other practices, prohibit a retailer from advertising the price of a gasoline blend that is not available at all fueling positions, and from offering the same grade of fuel at different prices.

The Nebraska Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association (NPCA), AAA and Better Business Bureau (BBB) all support the bill. In testimony at a recent hearing on the bill, some speakers were concerned it could hurt small co-ops that have fueling sites, or prevent efforts to introduce higher ethanol blends, which are often priced lower than the conventional 10% ethanol blend, E10. That said, almost all speakers supported the legislation.

“The vast majority of petroleum marketers adhere to a standard industry practice of advertising and pricing,” said Tim Keigher, executive director of NPCA, Lincoln, Neb., during his testimony on the bill, according to local news station NTV. “Some station owners have chosen to use a consumer’s expectations to trick them into paying more than expected, a practice we think should stop.”

Dan O’Neill, president and CEO of Kwik Stop, North Platte, told the Omaha World-Herald that while the c-store industry does not usually request more regulations, this bait-and-switch practice is not only confusing to consumers but also gives gas stations “a black eye.”

“Everybody agrees it’s wrong, it’s just wrong,” he said.

Don Quinn, vice president and treasurer of travel-center chain Sapp Brothers Inc., Omaha, agreed, adding that other retailers may feel pressured to copy the practice just to stay competitive with the offending station.

“I believe this deceptive practice, if it’s not stopped, will be further adopted,” he said.

“Our organization has been advocating for truth in advertising for over a century,” said Jim Hegarty, president and CEO of the BBB of Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and southwest Iowa. “We support legislation that will require retailers in circumstances where an advertised fuel price is only available at certain pumps to clearly disclose this limitation on all signs containing such advertised price. We are hopeful that such legislation will eliminate consumer complaints that the BBB is currently receiving related to this issue.”

While the committee hearing the testimony took no action on the bill, legislators in attendance seemed to be favorable to it, NTV reported. From here, they will determine whether to pass it along to the full legislature.

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