SF gas station's fuel giveaway on Spare the Air Day prompts criticism

Bad timing: Hugo Cerna

Bad timing: Hugo Cerna

On a hot, smoggy day in which Bay Area commuters were urged to renounce their cars for more carbon-friendly transit options, some 240 motorists each guzzled up to 15 gallons of free fuel as part of a giveaway event at an Outer Mission district gas station.

Despite Wednesday being a regional Spare the Air Day, a Shell gas station at 3550 Mission St. distributed free gas from 7 to 9 a.m. Station Manager Hugo Cerna said the giveaway was scheduled “quite some time ago.”

“I don’t think anyone at Shell knew this was a Spare the Air Day,” said Cerna, who added that he had no input on the decision. The event was designed to bring attention to a separate promotion that Shell and Lucky supermarkets have embarked upon, Cerna said.

Shell spokeswoman Katie Floyd said Wednesday’s gas giveaway was part of a nationwide event planned weeks in advance.

“We took great strides to ensure that our gasoline giveaways all over the country today were safe for motorists and the general public,” Floyd said.

Cerna said the early-morning crowd at the station was larger than normal, but not overwhelmingly so, since Shell did little to promote the giveaway.

“It was pretty busy,” he said, “but nothing too crazy.”

Still, officials at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the agency that issues Spare the Air Days, seemed none too pleased about the gas giveaway.

“We really like to discourage people from driving alone on a Spare the Air Day,” air district spokesman Aaron Richardson said. “So having a free gas event is something we’d rather not have gas station do.”

The agency issues Spare the Air warnings on hot, sunny days when winds levels are lower than normal. Such conditions allow smog levels to rise higher than usual, and to help prevent air quality from becoming dangerous, commuters are urged to forego their cars for public transit.

If motorists must drive on Spare the Air Days, Richardson added, they’re encouraged to carpool with other commuters. And if they plan on filling up their gas tank, the evening is the least harmful time to do so.

Wednesday’s Spare the Air Day was the eighth such event this year. Temperatures reached a high of 88 in San Francisco — 18 degrees hotter than the normal high of 70, according to Duane Dykema of the National Weather Service.


Gaffe station

Anatomy of a gasoline promotion:

15 Gallons of free gas given to each motorist at Shell station
2 Hours of promotion (7 to 9 a.m. Wednesday)
240 Customers who took advantage of the deal
$3.89 Normal cost of one gallon of gas at the station
8 Spare the Air Days issued so far this year

Source: BAAQMD, Shell

Bay Area Air Quality Management DistrictBay Area NewsLocalNational Weather ServiceTransittransportation

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