Gas and Dash: Ontario Considering Mandatory Prepay at Pump Legislation

Gas and Dash: Ontario Considering Mandatory Prepay at Pump Legislation

By Angela Atlass

Proposed Protecting Ontarians by Enhancing Gas Station Safety to Prevent Gas and Dash Act, 2023 legislation could make prepayment at gas pumps mandatory across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Also known as Bill 88, the Act was proposed by Deepak Anand, member of provincial parliament (MPP) for Mississauga-Milton on March 29 and would amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to add a new section to require customers to prepay for gasoline. It would apply to gas stations in the GTA and any other municipality that passes a resolution requesting the application of the section.

It would require GTA gas stations to affix a notice to any pumps with prepayment technology informing customers about the requirement and the owner of the gas station must ensure that any new or replacement gas pumps have prepayment technology capabilities. It would provide a six-month grace period for gas stations to educate and inform customers and staff about the new policy. For the first year, the requirement would be that customers prepay for gas between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Similar bills were introduced in Ontario in 2012, 2013 and 2020 but were unsuccessful at passing into law. The provinces of British Columbia and Alberta have prepayment legislation in place as does much of the United States.

Anand describes the Act as an important step towards making gas station workers feel safe.

“In Ontario, multiple lives have been lost,” states Anand. “For example, in April 2021, a 66-year-old bystander was killed during a gas and dash near Woodstock. In September 2012, a To-ronto gas station attendant was dragged for almost 80 metres by an SUV fleeing the scene after a gas theft.”

According to statistics provided by Anand’s office, the cost to businesses of gas theft in Ontario was $3.75 million in 2022, with 150 drive-offs per day on average.

Anand says that piloting the legislation in the GTA will help the province get user feedback and enable the modification of specific aspects if needed.

“We’re not forcing any non-GTA municipalities but we’re giving them the option to opt in,” says Anand. “They will have the flexibility to opt in by passing a resolution.”

The Convenience Industry Council of Canada (CICC) agrees that mandatory prepayment at the pumps is a good idea.

“The Convenience Industry Council of Canada supports prepayment as a means to keep employees safe,” says CICC President and CEO Anne Kothawala. “However, we take issue with the current bill in its format. We strongly believe that mandating prepayment in only the Greater Toronto Area will exacerbate the problem in neighbouring or bordering communities. In addition, permitting municipal councils to enforce prepayment at their discretion through a motion of council will create a patchwork of prepayment throughout the province that will be confusing for consumers and dilute the intent of keeping workers safe. We have shared these concerns, together with the Canadian Energy Marketing Association, directly with MPP Anand.”

The Ontario Convenience Store Association (OCSA) would like to see prepayment become law province-wide.

“There have been a lot of drive offs in rural Ontario,” says Dave Bryans, CEO, Convenience Store Association. “Big pickup trucks that fill up $100 at a gas station at the side of the highway and race away costing the family that runs the site a lot of money.”

Bryans says that many gas stations in the GTA, Hamilton, Durham, York and Halton have started voluntarily implementing a prepay program while they wait to see whether Bill 88 becomes law. At the time of writing this article, the bill had not yet received royal assent.

“Bill 88 is sitting in the justice committee right now and hasn’t been called yet for any committee work or consultation, which is a bit of a concern because this is what happened to the previous bill; it was passed and sent to the justice committee who didn’t do anything with it,” says Bryans. “We are encouraging all independents throughout the province to go ahead and implement prepay at the pumps but many of them are still reluctant because of customer backlash. If the government was to mandate that this is the new Ontario way of doing business, which we’ve seen in B.C. and Alberta, then it would be easier on the small, family-run sites.”

Anthony Magnini, owner of Gateway Gas Bar in Hamilton says he decided to voluntarily implement prepay at the pumps after dark.

“I will not jeopardize my staff,” states Magnini. “Gas pirating happens all the time but you are more vulnerable after dark, especially if you don’t have the right cameras or it’s not lit properly. Our site is modern and has over 35 cameras so it’s very hard for them to come in but, still, we’ve had two since I opened in December. Prepay legislation should be right across the province because safety should come first. The majority of people are paying by credit card or debit anyway.”

Bryans says that every independent gas station in rural Ontario should consider implementing prepayment, at least after dark, especially if they are located close to highways or on outside pumps where it is easier for people to drive away.

“It is very hard on a family making six to eight cents a litre when someone drives off with 70 litres of gas,” states Bryans, who cautions gas station owners and staff not to try to pursue gas thieves for safety reasons. “Prepay at the pumps in every community would save businesses a lot of grief. Keep in mind, the big gas and oil companies don’t lose anything when people drive away; it’s the retail family and the small independent people who lose the money out of their pockets. It’s their loss and I don’t think they can continue to sustain losses of drive offs when you also add in labour costs and other business costs and inflation.”

The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) are the driving force, in conjunction with OCSA, behind the pay at the pumps campaign, says Bryans. In 2018, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police board of directors passed a resolution in response to growing concerns by police leaders of the serious public safety impact of gas thefts. The resolution calls on the Province of Ontario to develop legislation or regulations to mandate the use of gasoline pumps equipped and activated with 24-hour-per-day prepayment technology.

“From a law enforcement perspective, drive-off or gas and dash thefts are a 100 per cent preventable crime,” says Joe Couto, director of government relations and communications, OACP. “Such crimes continue to increase in frequency and police services across Ontario must allocate police resources to respond to these crimes, impacting on their ability to respond to other community priorities.”

Many police services are reporting a significant increase in gas theft crimes, says Couto.

“With close to 2,000 occurrences of theft of gas each year, York Regional Police officers and investigators spent more than 7,000 hours of time responding and investigating gasoline drive-offs, incurring costs that were estimated to be over $600,000 per year,” says Couto. “Given the nature of gas and dash thefts, an overwhelming majority or approximately 91 per cent of these occurrences in York region did not result in charges.”

Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah told the Peel Region Police Services Board that his officers have gone to approximately 21,000 gas and dash drive-offs over the last five years. The Region of Halton continues to experience a steady increase in the frequency of gas drive-offs with a 31 per cent increase between 2019 and 2020, says Couto.

“While the impact on our police services is serious, it must be kept in mind that gas and dash crimes have already resulted in tragic deaths of workers at service stations,” states Couto.

OACP will continue to advocate for the Government of Ontario to support legislation making prepay at gas pumps mandatory, says Couto and Bryans is encouraging all gas station owners to speak up to their local MPPs about the problem.

“What we hear from MPPs when we go to Queen’s Park is that they never hear from the local stations in their communities saying there’s a problem,” says Bryans. “In Ontario, there are about 6,200 family-run independent stores and gas stations and it’s time more of them spoke up.”

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