As the cost of gasoline continues its decline, Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said the number of people driving away from gas stations without paying has drastically dropped, too.
By Sept. 7, 2005, gas stations owners in the county reported 288 people driving away from gas pumps without paying last year. But by Sept. 7, 2006, Morris said, only 80 gas drive-offs were reported to the sheriff's office.
Morris said he can attribute the stark decline to four simple words: Pay at the pump.
"Most businesses have instituted that policy," Morris said, adding that when gas prices were increasing and the number of gas drive-offs rising, each one was costing gas station owners much more money than in previous years. "There have always been spikes throughout the year, whether it has been Sept. 11, I think we had a spike, and Katrina, certainly... Each gas drive-off is costing them more than ever before."
Most gas stations, including many of the 10 Circle K stations throughout Columbia County, have installed signs on all pumps requiring prepayment before pumping.
Customers paying with credit, debit or gas cards can prepay at the pump, while cash customers must go inside the store to prepay for gasoline.
Morris said the sheriff's office has been encouraging gas station owners to require prepayment to reduce gas drive-offs.
But after a spike in stolen gas after Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Aug, 29, 2005, most gas stations implemented the prepayment policy, Morris said.
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