ST. PETERSBURG — Squint and you can just make out the words on a small white sign affixed to the Rally gas pump.
"Full service available. $3. Honk horn."
That's $3 on top of what you pay for the gas, which Tuesday was $3.359 a gallon for regular, $3.559 for mid-grade silver and $3.659 for premium ultimate.
Rally stations are independently owned, so the fee is one station's decision, not corporate policy.
The station at 2131 Fourth St. N started the fee for full-service so it could open up that pump to self-service customers, too, said owner Mark Perreault. Charging the same price for a gallon of gas — whether self-serve or full-serve — but adding the fee for full service made the accounting easier.
These days, most gas stations make their money not from gasoline, but from a different kind of fuel: people fuel, such as beer, sodas and sandwiches.
Bob Lee's, just down the St. Petersburg street from Rally at 1631 Fourth St. N, recently added a deli to its operation. In the 1990s, the company charged 25 cents a gallon more for full service but stopped the practice.
"Our slogan is full service at self-serve prices,'' said Todd Murrian, one of Bob Lee's partners. "We have three full-time employees that do nothing but pump gas, check your tires upon request."
He said the public doesn't understand that Bob Lee's makes only 10 cents a gallon profit on gas — at best.
Murrian said that when someone uses plastic to pay, the credit card company takes about 3 percent of the take. At that point, Murrian said, he starts to lose money.
"Nobody's making money selling gas," Murrian said. "We see the gas business as a relationship-builder for the automotive services we provide."
At the Rally, "many seniors prefer" to pay the extra fee for full service, cashier Al Kessler said.
During one 45-minute stretch Tuesday morning, only one driver — a 61-year-old woman who said she was too arthritic to twist off the gas cap — paid the fee.
Others seemed downright insulted.
"It's completely ridiculous," said Paul Tournier, 68, as he pumped gas for his boat. He used to get full service, but won't pay the fee.
"It's really overkill.''
Randy Bly, director of community relations for AAA Auto Club South, said this is the first he's heard of such a fee.
But he supports it. Bly said "$3 is a small price to pay for safety" and will help people who cannot get out of their cars.
"It's kind of a refreshing new angle," he said. "I'm surprised it hasn't caught on."
Times researcher Will Short Gorham contributed to this report. Eileen Schulte can be reached at [email protected]