Motorists Idle in Long Lines for Bargain Gas

It looked like the 1973 oil embargo all over again in parts of Ventura County on Friday, except this time people willingly waited in line to buy gasoline at Mobil stations--at almost half the regular price.

Most Mobil service stations in Ventura County, as well as some elsewhere in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, charged 77.7 cents for a gallon of any grade gas for about three hours.

At some stations, multiple lines of cars spilled onto streets, prompting gas station attendants to serve as impromptu traffic cops.

"It was 10 to 15 cars on the streets," clerk Omar Niazi said at the KR Mobil station at Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Moorpark Road. "We pumped close to 4,000 gallons in three hours. [Usually] we pump like 200 to 300."

The cheaper gas was a promotion for Mobil's new "Friendly Serve" service, which features an island attendant even at self-serve pumps. The service will be available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, hence the pricing scheme.

But while customers saved money, gas station owners lost cash.

"[It] blew out any records of any sales I had," Mike Ply, co-owner of Bailey-Ply Mobil at East Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Hampshire Road, said of the sales gimmick. "I never lost so much money in my life."

The profit margin on a gallon of gas for most dealers ranges from a nickel to 12 cents, he said.

In addition to motorists, Mothers Against Drunk Driving also benefited: Each participating station pledged $100 to the organization, Ply said.

Niazi reported happy customers despite the lines, but the low prices caused some grousing at other stations.

"We've had a lot of [phone] complaints, because a lot of people were turned away," said Diana Siegler, an employee of an Oxnard Mobil oil distribution facility that had no connection to the promotion.

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