Codman Square gas station fined; City cites price sign deception

The city of Boston is fining G & D Auto Center on Washington Street $450 for allegedly misleading its customers on the price of gas.

G & D calls their least expensive gas "economy" rather than "regular," though the company's signs on the street don't make this clear. The result is "a classic case of bait and switch," said Bob McGrath of the city's Inspectional Services Department, which issued owner Vidal Garcia a list of six violations last week.

G & D's street signs advertised the price of $3.15 a gallon for gasoline without specifying the grade, which violates Massachusetts General Law. G & D is one of about 10 full service gas stations in Boston that calls their lowest grade of gasoline (87 octane) "economy" rather than "regular." Their "regular" gasoline is 88 octane and $3.29 per gallon, but without the proper signs, customers don't know to ask for "economy" to get the $3.15 price.

The misleading signage is a marketing technique used only by full service gas stations, McGrath said, where customers pull in and instinctively ask for "regular" gasoline without knowing that there is a less expensive option called "economy." McGrath said there are four full service gas stations on Dorchester Avenue that also sell both "economy" and "regular" fuel, which is legal since Massachusetts does not have standard definitions of the various grades of gasoline.

"They can do what they want as long as they mark it correctly," McGrath said, which is what G & D failed to do.

"Very few cars require more than 87 octane to run properly," McGrath said, noting that at most gas stations "regular" gasoline is 87 octane. At G & D, customers only get one more octane for 14 cents more per gallon, which is "a lot of money," according to McGrath.

"I think they're making a lot of profit," he said.

The placards on top of the pumps at G & D were also turned perpendicular to the pump, making them difficult to read, especially for customers who remain in their cars while an attendant pumps their gas.

While it's hard to prove intent, McGrath said G & D's marketing is deceptive, particularly given their location next to the Dorchester District Court House where visitors pass through frequently.

"It's confusing to customers," McGrath said, "especially customers that aren't familiar with the station."

Barbara Santos-Silva of Dorchester lives on Washington nearby and was tipped off to G & D's marketing tactics last Friday when she pulled in for gas. She stuck around the station, informing others that if they wanted the $3.15 a gallon price, they should ask for "economy" instead of "regular."

Santos-Silva said she's been a loyal customer to the local business for years, but won't be coming back. "I feel like I've been ripped off all this time," she said. "Gas prices are high enough as it is and now this on top of it…Who's ever even heard of 'economy?'"

Garcia did not return messages left at his home or with the station attendant. Garcia has been fined by the ISD on three other occasions for selling motor fuel without a license from the state, for advertising a lower price than what they were actually charging at the pump, and for not having the required signs on top of the pumps stating gas prices. McGrath said he has made a recommendation to the state to establish regulated definitions for grades of gasoline and also to suspend G & D Auto Center's license to sell motor fuel, as they are repeat offenders.