One Way to Combat High Prices - Just Run Out of Gas

by Jason White on 7 June 2008 13 comments

A story recently appearing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution told of a growing trend in the metro Atlanta area - people running out of gas.  This is probably to be expected considering how high prices have become, but the number has me wondering if motorists have a different motive - free gas!

Free Gas in the Emergency Lane

HERO (Highway Emergency Response Operator) units patrol Atlanta's many miles of interstate looking for stranded motorists to offer assistance.  When they happen upon a motorist who has run out of gas they typically add a gallon or two of gasoline, enough to get them off the interstate and to the nearest gas station.  Of course, this gasoline is provided at tax payer's expense, and that expense has gone up along with recent spike in gas prices.  HERO operators are now going through more gasoline in the course of a day, and spending much more per gallon than they were a year ago.  This is significantly increasing the cost to provide the emergency fuel service.

A Costly Diversion

This recent increase in the number of out-of-gas incidents has another costly side-effect.  As dispatchers send more and more units to respond to fuel requests, response to more serious emergencies has suffered.  All of this could be avoided if drivers accepted the responsibility of monitoring their fuel gauges and filling up before hitting crowded interstates.  I'm also curious why HERO units don't charge drivers for the gasoline to recoup some of the costs of providing this service.  If motorists were charged a dollar or two more than the retail price of a gallon of gas, they may think twice before running on fumes in an effort to save a buck.  Instead of HERO units collecting payments, drivers could be issued the equivalent of a ticket which they would have to mail in within 30 days to avoid further collection attempts. 

I wouldn't be surprised if a tax increase is forthcoming to offset these additional costs.  I'm all for public services, but at some point providing those services becomes cost prohibitive.  Getting stalled motorists back on the road is a public safety issue, as cars stuck in the emergency lane block access for emergency vehicles, and present a potential collision obstacle for passing motorists.  Instead of raising taxes on all motorists, make those who benefit from the HERO emergency fuel service pay for it.  After all, the City of Atlanta probably doesn't pay for new tires for those with a flat, or replace radiators in cars that have overheated. 

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Linsey Knerl's picture

I'm nowhere near an area that has a HERO squad.  Our only option is to hoof it to the nearest gas station, or call AAA to deliver it (for a fee.)  Running out of gas would be tragic for me (having to carry young children along the side of the road or highway), so we have a 1/4 tank rule at our house.  The rule?  Don't let it get less than a 1/4 tank.  The consequences are far too costly.

Thanks for enlightening me.  I had no idea!

Guest's picture
Kate

Hi funny you should mention this as i saw one of our dear bobbies (policemen) filling up someones car the other day and i thought to myself hang on a minute where did that petrol come from. I have since found out that it was not the policemans and all he had done was take the driver to a petrol station to fill up her can, it would have been illigal for the police to carry a can of petrol with them over here in the UK.

So i didn't realise you had this HERO service in the US, nice trick if you can get away with it but like you say it really isn't fair for the tax payers to have to payout for it. They should charge the driver for it.

Guest's picture
pidgeon92

Last time I checked, it was illegal to run out of gas on the expressway. You can expect a nice ticket along with your free gallon of gas.

Guest's picture
Guest

AAA Plus and Platinum Plus members get free gas when they run out, too. Usually only 2-3 gallons, but it is free. I dispatched for AAA for a few years and people abused this all the time, and I'm sure it's gotten worse since gas prices have risen.

Guest's picture
Jared

Gas prices are out of control now, I saw $3.95 for regular today. It's sad we have to get used to this.

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Love these articles! Keep them coming.

Julie Rains's picture

is my rule also for filling up. I don't want to be stranded either.

But if you live in Atlanta, you'll find that you may need to increase your minimum: I have been stuck in traffic with plenty of gas and then worried that I'd run out just b/c of the long waits, usually on major interstate highways through town. Here's a pic of Spaghetti Junction in Atlanta (not a place you'd want to pull over and wait for help). On the other hand, it sounds like some people might do anything to get free gas.

Guest's picture
Jenny

For me to wait on the side of the road for it. An hour of my time is way more valuable than 8 bucks, especially when it's swindled from fellow taxpayers who are paying for their own gas no matter how much it hurts. And plus I don't think they even do that where I live. That really is pathetic!

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

My coworker says that the same service is available on highway 101 in Northern California.  She ran out of gas by accident one day and the Highway Patrol came and gave her a gallon.  I've never been that lucky though.  No CHP officer stopped for me when my tires got slashed by some road debris.

Jason White's picture

I believe the HERO emergency fuel service (and the CHP service mentioned by Xin Lu) is a great public service to offer.  I just think those that benefit from it ought to have to fund it, so others who do not get a direct benefit don't have to supplement its costs through taxation.

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ian_us3

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jerrydill

I don't believe that motorists would intentionally run out of gas so that they can just get one gallon of gas. That is more trouble than it is worth. I understand the idea behind it, however I believe that more and more people don't want to pay as much for gas and in the process they are trying to get their engines to sip off of fumes. Unfortunately they don't realize that not filling up on gas will save them money. In the long run it won't. Having better driving habits will help reduce this problem. Unfortunately I have had the experience of driving in Atlanta. It was definitely a life altering experience. Learning to drive less and drive safer will save you money in the long run.

Guest's picture
pam munro

You also can get a free gallon or so on L.A. freeways if you run out of gas in the AM or PM rush hours. They do it to keep the traffic flowing.

Guest's picture
Guest

Yep, give someone something for free and there will be throngs in waiting to jump on it and abuse it. I have no problem charging people if they need the service. In LA we have the Metropolitan Freeway Patrol which is a roaming service that goes around the highways looking for stranded motorists to help.

I ran out of gas once on my motorcycle because it only has a low gas light but no gauge. I called the dealer and they sent their guy to bring me some gas to get to the closest station. You bet I gave him $10 for his troubles and I only took .5 gallon of super unleaded. It's called doing the right thing.

In a bigger context, this also goes for welfare abuse, and consumer fraud where people use something then try to return it to the store and stick the rest of us honest folks with higher prices at the store because they have to recoup the costs.