If you’ve been keeping a close eye on the soaring price of gas, you may notice pumps with a problem in some parts of Iowa. State officials have given small gas stations with old-fashioned mechanical gas pumps permission to charge by the half-gallon. Ron Rowland is director of the consumer protection division of the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Some gas stations, especially in the state’s more rural areas, have older mechanical pumps. Those use physical numbers on the dials, as compared with the digital numbers that flash from modern pumps, and the old dials in some cases don’t go higher than a price of 2-dollars 99-cents. The issue was that either some of those stations would have to sell gas cheaper than 2-99…which might be below their cost…or shut down. Rowland says the state’s weights-and-measurements regulators won’t make retailers do either of those things, and won’t let them simply cover up the price numbers on the old pumps. Iowa’s gone back to a solution the legislature introduced in 1980, when the price of gas first rose past one-dollar. Many pumps couldn’t show a price over 99-cents, so they allowed “half-pricing” — displaying the price for half a gallon. Today, that’ll mean a station charging three-dollars a gallon can show the price as a dollar-fifty per half-gallon, if their pump numbers won’t go over $2.99. Those signs out by the street must reflect the gallon price — so you won’t drive down the street and see one sign advertising $3 a gallon and the next touting $1.50 a half-gallon. There also must be signs on every pump alerting you that the machine’s registering prices at half-gallon increments instead of gallons, and there must be signs in the windows saying that also. Rowland says the regulatory inspectors won’t make any retailer quit using an old pump, as long as it’s regularly tested and proves accurate.
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