For one 24-hour period at the Exxon, 5190 Poplar in East Memphis, the price was not right.
The Action News 5 Investigators were along with the inspectors of the City of Memphis Weights & Measures Bureau (http://www.cityofmemphis.org/framework.aspx?page=905) when they "red-tagged" every fuel dispenser at the Exxon last month.
Not only did the prices on the marquis fail to match the prices on the pumps, but also the prices on the pumps didn't match each other. The pumps listed prices that were all over the board. Supervising inspector Sharon McGhee declared every pump "unacceptable" and ordered her inspectors to shut down every pump with bold red "REJECTED" tags on zip-ties.
The station's manager awkwardly tried to explain the confusion.
"Our stick is broke, the one we use to change the prices," said the unidentified manager, who quickly shuffled away from our camera. When we asked him how long it had been broken, he answered, "Just a day."
He took off before we could ask him about the prices on the pumps themselves.
The Weights & Measures Bureau's inspection records reveal 39 of the city's 353 regulated gas stations failed their first inspections of 2008, which began in March. Here are the ones that failed, sorted by month:
MARCH '08 INSPECTION VIOLATIONS:
* BP/Amoco, 821 Poplar. 12 of 24 pumps failed due to fuel shortage.
* Texaco, 629 Highland. 1 of 27 pumps failed. Broken handle.
* Save On Gas, 4317 American Way. 6 of 24 pumps failed. Defective memory board.
* Mapco Express, 3703 Jackson. 1 of 24 pumps failed. Leaking hose.
* Mapco Express, 2456 Chelsea. 1 of 24 pumps failed. Broken handle.
* Flash Market/Citgo, 4251 Winchester. 6 of 42 pumps failed. Blown fuses.
APRIL '08 INSPECTION VIOLATIONS:
* Shell, 8535 Stage/Hwy 64. 1 of 36 pumps failed. Broken nozzle.
* McLemore Market, 9855 Hwy 64. 3 of 36 pumps failed. Faulty display screens.
* Exxon, 1369 Sycamore View. 12 of 36 pumps failed. Leaking nozzle, faulty nozzle, unable to turn two pumps on from either inside the station or outside the station.
* Oil City USA, 4511 Macon. 1 of 18 pumps failed. Extremely slow flow.
* Chelsea Food Market, 1050 Chelsea. 3 of 12 pumps failed. Broken gas grade select buttons.
* Citgo, 1974 Whitten. 6 of 24 pumps failed. Broken gallon displays.
* Citgo, 1675 Madison. 2 of 22 pumps failed. Uncertified diesel dispensers.
* BP/Northside Food Market, 1414 Jackson. 6 of 24 pumps failed. Display boards not working.
* Mystik Station, 3795 Jackson. 8 of 24 pumps failed. Premium gas empty.
* Coastal Truck Stop, 4941 Lamar. 6 of 60 pumps failed. Missing nozzles, one pump extremely slow flow.
* Shell, 1685 Union. 3 of 24 pumps failed. Two leaking hoses, one hose missing.
* Union 76/Circle K, 1781 Getwell. 9 of 24 pumps failed. Broken nozzle, eight pumps out of gas, two pumps missing handles.
* Mapco Express, 5375 Elvis Presley. 1 of 37 pumps failed. Leaking nozzle.
* Shell, 2400 Airways. 3 of 32 pumps failed. Extremely slow flow.
* Royal Market, 2230 Chelsea. 1 of 12 pumps failed. Missing hose.
* Amoco Split Second Station, 1710 Whitten. 7 of 48 pumps failed. No fuel, broken nozzle.
MAY '08 INSPECTION VIOLATIONS:
* BP/Amoco, 1184 Covington Pike. 6 of 36 pumps failed. Leaking hose, credit card function not connected to satellite.
* BP/Amoco, 785 Germantown. 2 of 36 pumps failed. Pumps would not turn off at attendant island.
* Smart Mart, 613 Highland. 1 of 12 pumps failed. Pump jumped $.11 when activated.
* Park Avenue Shell, 3877 Park. 3 of 24 pumps failed. Leaking hose.
* Amoco, 3727 Watkins. 1 of 30 pumps failed. Leaking hose.
* Circle K, 8971 Hwy 64. 10 of 30 pumps failed. No fuel.
* H&H Market/Citgo, 863 Highland. 6 of 36 pumps failed. Missing nozzle.
* BP/Amoco, 1682 Shelby. 2 of 30 pumps failed. Dispensing too much fuel.
* Exxon, 3151 Perkins. 3 of 30 pumps failed. Faulty nozzle.
* Amoco, 1171 Chelsea. 5 of 30 pumps failed. Display board missing parts.
* Citgo, 6110 Quince. 5 of 8 pumps failed. Manager explained those pumps would not be back in service.
* Getwell Station, 1220 Getwell. 3 of 24 pumps failed. Broken nozzle.
* Exxon, 4157 Elvis Presley. 3 of 36 pumps failed. Broken handle.
* Schnucks Express, 751 Truse Parkway. 3 of 30 pumps failed. Would not dispense gas after using credit card.
JUNE '08 INSPECTION VIOLATIONS:
* BP Station, 8 S. Parkway. 4 of 25 pumps failed. Missing parts, filter, leaking nozzle.
* Corner Food Market, 1796 Lamar. 1 of 18 pumps failed. Cashier told inspector the station never uses the premium pump.
* Exxon, 5190 Poplar. ALL PUMPS FAILED. False price advertising on marquis, pumps did not match each other on prices.
According to McGhee, all of the stations passed their follow-up inspections.
Zip code 38111, the one that includes the University of Memphis, had the most failing stations (6). That didn't exactly thrill Rochelle Powell, a senior in psychology who freely admits the prices have been messing with her mind.
"I mean, it's ridiculous! Tuition has gone up. Now we're paying more in gas and then for gas (stations) around here (to fail inspection)? They're cheating us out of our money," says Powell.
City officials say the stations aren't cheating anybody. They're just getting sloppy with maintaining and updating their pumps.
Some of the stations failed because they're not filling their tanks. Records show half of the dispensers at the BP/Amoco, 821 Poplar, failed inspection in March because they were empty. Those pumps have since been removed because, city officials say, the station can't afford to keep them running.
"High fuel cost and the lack of demand for more expensive grades of fuel contribute to these factors," says an e-mail issued on behalf of the city's Office of Public Services by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton's spokesperson Toni Holmon-Turner.
To report a gas station that may not be complying with the law, click at the link above to the Weights & Measures bureau. You can also e-mail inspectors here: firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can call 901-528-2946.