Despite the patriotic fervor that has marched across the country, the first test of the war against terrorism found many Americans taking a “me first” attitude. When rumors were flying that gasoline shipments might be disrupted, people lined up to fill up their tanks before supplies dried up. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham has more:
Despite the patriotic fervor that has marched across the country, the first test of the war against terrorism found many Americans taking a “me first” attitude. When rumors were flying that gasoline shipments might be disrupted, people lined up to fill their tanks before supplies dried up. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
On September tenth, the Energy Department reported that gasoline prices fell almost two cents per gallon. It was the first drop since early August and nearly three-and-a-half cents a gallon cheaper than the same time last year. Supplies of gasoline were plentiful and cheaper, but no one seemed to be in a particular hurry to filler up.
That all changed on September eleventh.
“… breaking news from New York City where planes, two planes have hit both towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan” (voice fades under)
As the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D-C unfolded rumors of refineries shutting down started circulating. Some suppliers told service station retailers that they weren’t sure when or even if they could deliver the next shipment. Word quickly spread that the price at the pumps was going up.
(Natural sound of service station)
Sharon Cameron lives and works in a small town in Illinois. She heard from a co-worker that the price might go up to five dollars a gallon. When she got near the convenience store. She found a long line of cars and trucks.
“I had about a 35 minute wait to get gas.”
And some in line weren’t happy about what they saw in front of them.
“There was a gentleman that was pretty upset because another guy had pulled his truck in there and had filled up both tanks on his truck and then proceeded to fill up about five or six gas tanks in the back of his truck.”
People appeared to be hoarding gasoline because of rumors that speculated supplies would be cut off because of the terrorist attacks.
Some retailers took advantage of the situation. Scott Mulford is a spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General’s office. He says about 1500 people from around the state called in complaints that stations were price gouging.
“Prices at the stations increased in some cases as high as five dollars a gallon.”
The Illinois Attorney General is filing suit against one convenience store chain, charging that the price spikes violated the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
Other states in the Midwest had similar incidents. Ohio is filing suit against at least four station owners. There were reports of price gouging in Wisconsin. The Michigan Attorney General has plans to file suit against 13 retailers. Some retailers say in their defense that it wasn’t greed that motivated them. But concern about gas supplies. Some of those gas station owners who hiked prices on September eleventh say they were simply trying to discourage a mad rush for gasoline by raising the price. Stanley Pruss is with the Michigan AG’s office.
“There was something of a panic. There were gas lines. The gasoline station retailer can close down, limit hours, ration gasoline, or spike the price or raise the price to control demand. I mean, those are all options within their purview. Price increases to control demand that double the price of gas are just unconscionable.”
Pruss says it’s somewhat understandable that people wanted to rush to fill their tanks when they heard that gas prices were going up to five-dollars-a-gallon or that supplies might be disrupted.
A marketing professor at the University of Illinois says it’s to be expected. Brian Wansink says instead of conserving in times of crisis. Americans have a tendency to stock up. “Just in case.”
“Any time there’s a crisis or any time that uncertainty is magnified in one direction or another, this basic tendency that we have gets expanded, you know, two, three, or even four-fold.”
Wansink says part of this tendency is a leftover from another national crisis, the depression. He says our parents and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression in the 1930’s have instilled in us the stories of their terrible struggles.
“About how, you know, they only had bread to eat, and how things were really, really tight, and how dire things were. And so, there’s essentially this trace in our mind that ‘My god, things could be really, really bad and I don’t know.’ And I think it’s this threat that drives some of this hoarding also.”
So, storing up or hoarding is part of our culture. At least this time the impulse to hoard gasoline was short-lived. The lines dwindled in just a few hours. Hiked prices were lowered to more reasonable levels by the next day. Hoarding quickly gave way to an outpouring of generosity toward relief efforts for the victims of the terrorist attacks. It’s evident that Americans have another tendency: that is, to pull together in times of tragedy. After they’ve had a little time to reflect on the bigger picture.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.