The Oregon Department of Justice found the Shell gas station at Ashland's Exit 19 is not breaking the law by charging drivers significantly more at its full-service gas pumps without a sign notifying customers about the extra cost.
But the department has decided to look at whether state rules about gas station signs are adequate.
"As we received several consumer complaints regarding the lack of clarity to consumers as to the actual price of gasoline, we will undertake a review of the current rules, which were adopted in 1985, to determine if there is a need for updating and revising these rules," Oregon Department of Justice Enforcement Officer Alicia Suarez explained in a letter.
The letter was sent out this month to consumers who have complained about the Shell gas station's long-term practice of charging more for gas at its full-service pumps — while only posting the mini-service pump price on a large sign next to Valley View Road.
The price for gas at a full-service pump is listed on a small digital screen on the pump itself. The screen is smaller than a hand.
Under state law, gas stations can charge more for full-service but they only need to post the lowest cash price of each grade of gasoline on street signs. However, each pump has to show the price that will be charged based on whether the consumer is paying for full service or mini-service.
In January, an Ashland driver complained that she was charged about $10 extra after she got gas and had her windshield washed and oil checked at one of the Shell station's full-service gas pumps. She complained to an employee and received a refund of the extra fee. She then filed a complaint with the Department of Justice.
The Daily Tidings ran an article in January about the situation, which prompted other drivers to file complaints about their experiences at the Shell station.
Other local gas stations told the Tidings they offer services like windshield washing for no extra cost when customers buy gas.
On Friday afternoon, the price for gas at a mini-service pump at the Shell station was listed on the station's large sign at $2.359 per gallon.
The price on the small digital screen on each full-service pump was $2.799, or 44 cents more per gallon.
Consumers who have complained about the gas station in the past said they were charged up to a $1 more per gallon. The Tidings has run at least two articles in the past several years about the gas station's practices. Additionally, some disgruntled customers who have Web sites have posted warnings to stay away from the gas station.
A motorist who pulled up at a full-service pump on Friday afternoon and asked for $5 worth of gas was told by a gas station attendant that she should consider moving to a mini-service pump because the price was cheaper there.
The gas station's owner, Frank Adler, said there is nothing wrong with charging more for full-service gas without posting the price difference on the station's large road-side sign.
"I'm doing everything completely legal. I've been doing it for 25 or 30 years," he said.
Adler said posting the price per gallon at a full-service pump up on his big sign along with the price per gallon at a mini-service pump would just confuse customers. Plus he said there would always be customers who didn't notice the price difference anyway.
Adler said if Attorney General John Kroger, the head of the Department of Justice, would like to change the requirements for how gas stations post prices, he will push for a repeal of Oregon's law that bans self-service.
He said a self-service station only has to have one employee on at a time. But at his station, Adler said he has to have a person inside the gas station and two people manning the pumps.
According to Adler, he nets $1,400 a month for himself from the gas station. He said he pays his manager $2,000 a month and his assistant manager $1,700 a month, while other workers earn $9 per hour.
"I've got to make a living. I've got to keep my employees — and $1,400 a month out of that place is not very much," he said.
Adler, age 70, said he lives in a 1,400-square-foot townhouse in Medford and relies on Social Security and his income from the gas station. He said he has contributed to the Rogue Valley community in a variety of ways, including coaching and, when times were better, donating money for sports uniforms and a scoreboard.
As an individual gas station owner, Adler said he has to deal with large oil companies that don't care about how much they charge customers, "jobbers" who charge to transport gas to stations and credit card companies that charge gas station owners up to 4 percent of purchases when drivers buy gas with credit cards.
Asked if he thinks he has lost customers because of the higher price he charges for full-service, Adler responded, "Not at all. I'm not going to lower my prices and not make enough to live."
Adler said he has instructed his employees to offer a refund if a customer complains about the extra charge at a full-service pump.
Anyone who would like to be involved in the Department of Justice's review and possible revision of rules about gas station signs can contact Enforcement Officer Alicia Suarez at (503) 934-4400.
Suarez said the department will keep complaints that have already been filed against the Shell gas station as part of the public record.
To file a complaint about the Shell gas station or any other business, call the Department of Justice or visit www.doj.state.or.us. The file number for the Shell gas station case is FF0041-09.
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.