PORTLAND, Ore. — Jill McMahon needed gas. Her car was running low on fuel, so the Tigard woman pulled off at the Woodburn exit.
The Chevron station nearest Interstate 5 had a tanker blocking customers, so McMahon drove down the street to the ARCO AM/PM station.
The ARCO gas station had a large, blue banner reading “OPEN 24 HOURS” covering its outdoor price display.
“I specifically drove around to look for their reader board but it was covered up,” explained McMahon.
After filling up at the Arco gas station, McMahon said she was shocked by the price.
“It was almost twice as much as it took to fill in Portland,” said McMahon. “I was just appalled. That just seemed wrong.”
Dozens of other customers also complained about being blindsided by high gas prices at the Woodburn Arco station.
“I think it is a bad business model,” said customer Grant Hardy.
Hardy explained he had no idea how much the Arco station charged for gas until it was too late.
“I was like, ‘Dude, stop!’ Because I noticed the price was increasing,” said Hardy, frustrated by the lack of price transparency.
Online review sites like Yelp and Google are filled with warnings about the ARCO gas station in Woodburn. There are nasty comments about the price display being covered, along with photos of expensive receipts.
On March 29, KGW found the ARCO gas station in Woodburn charged $4.38 per gallon for regular unleaded fuel, compared to $3.25 a gallon at a nearby Chevron and $3.29 at Shell.
From the driver’s side, this reporter could not see the price displayed on each gas pump and there were no prices posted out front.
Government records show over the past year there have been 59 consumer complaints filed with the Oregon Department of Justice about the ARCO station in Woodburn. Most of the complaints involved claims of charging an excessive price.
Michael Mills, an attorney representing the ARCO gas station in Woodburn, declined to comment due to “an ongoing investigation by the DOJ.”
The Oregon Department of Justice declined to comment on the pending investigation.
State records show Mills has responded on behalf of the ARCO station to consumer complaints filed with the Oregon DOJ.
In one letter, Mills explained the Woodburn ARCO is a franchisee of BP ARCO and is charged much higher prices for the fuel it buys from corporate than other ARCO stations in the area.
Additionally, Mills noted prices are displayed on each pump for each grade of gasoline, which is all that is required.
Mills pointed out that Oregon law states, “A retailer is not required to display prices charged for motor vehicle fuel.”
“That is the law,” explained Marie Dodds of AAA Oregon. “Oregon gas stations are not required to post signs of the prices of the fuel they sell.”
Dodds explained there are no federal requirements either. Instead, there’s a patchwork of laws across the country.
“We have different laws and regulations in different states and sometimes even different cities so it can be really confusing for consumers,” explained Dodds.
For example: New York requires gas prices posted so they’re clearly visible to any approaching car. Maryland has a similar mandate. Prices must be readable to passing drivers.
Orlando, Florida also requires gas stations post prices on the street, including specific mandates on the size of the block letters.
Although there is no requirement in Oregon, most gas stations voluntarily advertise prices to passing motorists.
“Everybody’s prices are on their reader boards out front,” explained McMahon, who wished the ARCO AM/PM in Woodburn would do the same. “I will definitely pay attention now.”