Shell station owner slashes prices, closes pumps

Hundreds of drivers swarmed a small gasoline station in San Francisco Thursday to take advantage of a one-of-a-kind deal: gas for $2.98 a gallon.

The gas-pump phenomenon was part of one man’s crusade against Shell and other large petroleum corporations he says are running smaller franchise operators out of business by jacking up rents and forcing them to pay hefty prices for gasoline, which have reached an all-time high across the nation.

Bob Oyster, who ran the Shell station at Sixth and Harrison streets for 22 years, slashed gasoline prices Thursday — to $2.98 a gallon for regular and $2.99 a gallon for premium — before shutting the station down and turning it over to Shell.

In protest of what he saw as large gas conglomerates financially gouging small station owners, Oyster raised his prices a few weeks ago to about $4.40 a gallon, knowing drivers would mock the prices and fuel up elsewhere. The statement, he has reportedly said, would link the Shell brand to outrageous costs.

In addition, Shell had planned to raise Oyster’s rent from $6,000 to $8,154 a month, according to a statement from the corporation.

“We worked with him in good faith in hopes of renewing his contract,” Shell spokeswoman Sarah Andreani said. “The price he has set reflects poorly on the thousands of Shell operators who try to price their products competitively.”

On Thursday, drivers jammed the tiny station parking lot, blocked traffic on Sixth and Harrison, and waited up to two hours for a turn at the pump. Some drivers cut others off, honked horns in frustration, and one driver even tapped another vehicle’s bumper in the frenzy. (See photos on Examiner's “San Francisco in Pictures” blog.)

Cynthia Heard filled her Ford Expedition tank for $80 — a savings of $40, she said.

“My mom told me, ‘You better go down there and fill that car up,’” she added.

Heard said she pays nearly $500 a month to commute 60 miles from Vallejo to The City each day in the sport utility vehicle.

Cashier Si Wong, who has worked at the station for seven months, taped a makeshift sign that read “All Out” on the booth window around 1 p.m.

The station had about 4,000 gallons of regular gasoline left, but Wong said the network jammed and he turned anxious customers away.

Supe wants oil companies out of S.F.

While anxious drivers waited up to two hours for gasoline at less than $3 a gallon Thursday, a hearing was held a few blocks away at City Hall regarding a proposal that would force large oil companies to sell gasoline stations to independent owners.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who plans to introduce the legislation in about two months, said more independently owned service stations in The City could drive down soaring gasoline prices. Most stations in The City are owned by large, multinational conglomerates that set the standard for the cost of gas and drive out the competition, he said.

The average cost of regular fuel was $3.57 a gallon in The City on Thursday, according to the American Automobile Association. The national average was $3.20 a gallon.

arocha@examiner.com

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