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    At BP, Pay Before You Pump

    Corporate-owned stations initiate new policy in response to drive-offs.

    AURORA, Ill. -- In response to a mounting number of people speeding away without paying for high-priced gasoline, BP gas stations are forcing area drivers to pay up before they fill their tanks, reported The Beacon News online.

    "We've just disabled the 'pay inside' button on our dispensers," Scott Dean, the company's Illinois spokesman, said in the report.

    The policy, which affects the 30 to 40 percent of drivers who pay for gas in cash, has been implemented over the past three weeks, according to The Beacon News Online.

    It's a welcome change for Rhonda Pina, a cashier at a BP station in Yorkville, Ill.

    Previously, Pina said in the report, the station lost about 10 tanks full of gas a week to drive-offs.

    Gas theft is nothing new, police told The Beacon News online. But drive-offs increase with fuel costs, and price hikes this summer and fall meant managers across the country watched helplessly as thieves sped off with full tanks.

    "When the (cost of) gas shot up, it was bad, real bad," said Lonica Rossetti, a manager at Thorntons in Aurora, Ill., said in the report. "(It happened) every day. All shifts. All hours."

    When the price of a gallon exceeded $3, Rossetti told The Beacon News online, Thorntons lost as much as $200 a week. Now, weekly losses are closer to $50.

    According to calculations by BP spokesmen, gas stations nationwide lost an average of $2,141 to drive-offs in 2004.

    BP's decision to make drivers pay before they pump only applies to corporate-owned stations.

    Independently owned BPs and other independently owned stations decide individually whether to switch to pre-pay, and managers say it's a tough choice.

    Some operators worry that the pre-pay system will inconvenience and drive away customers, according to the report.

    Since 1998, 27 states have tried to clamp down on drive-offs by giving judges discretion to suspend the license of a driver convicted of gasoline theft.

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