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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Retail fuel prices are not the only things going up at the pump. According to a recent survey of state weights and measures officials, the number of customer complaints at the pump are also increasing.
While most customers pay little attention to the accuracy of measurements on a scale, through a gas pump or on a package label, they tend to take a closer look when prices increase. On the west coast, Kurt Floren, director of weights and measures for the county of Los Angeles, said that the number of documented violations does not tend to increase with fuel prices. "Buying and selling occurs every day so our inspectors are performing unannounced inspections throughout the year, not just when prices are high,” he said. "The fact that spikes in noncompliance do not coincide with spikes in prices and complaints indicates that the routine regulation by weights and measures officials is doing its job in protecting the marketplace. The increased diligence by consumers, though, in observing and reporting issues of concern is appreciated, helping to guide officials to potential problems and enabling prompt resolutions."
In the normal course of business, inspectors test for accuracy, verify that the calibration mechanisms are sealed from tampering, look for leaks and evaluate advertising practices and price computations. Some states also test fuel quality. Additionally, inspectors can make sure that individual retailers are not using the tolerances to their advantage by setting all the meters slightly in the retailer's favor, according to the National Conference on Weights and Measures.
But as states face tough budget decisions, Tim Tyson, director of the Kansas Weights and Measures Division worries that the importance of inspection programs may be lost. "Many weights and measures programs are potentially facing serious budget reductions," said Tyson who also serves as chairman of the National Conference on Weights and Measures. "The cost for weights and measures inspection programs in most states is less than 70 cents per year for each resident. It is really a bargain as far as regulatory programs go. That much and more could be lost in one trip to the store through inaccuracies and misrepresentations."
Despite financial factors, however, retailers push for honesty at the pumps. "Retailers strive for honesty at the pump," said John Eichberger of the National Association of Convenience Stores. "Weights and measures inspectors ensure that retail dispensers deliver what the consumer pays for -- this provides certainty for the consumer and the retailer and helps maintain a level playing field. The retail gasoline market is extremely competitive and transparent. Without the assurance of accurate and consistent measurement provided by these officials, this transparency could diminish and consumers and retailers alike would be disadvantaged."