15 July 2008

Shortage of fours

Gas stations have a shortage of fours.

My American readers probably know why -- gas has been over \$4 per gallon for a while. Apparently the numbers come in sets of forty, four of each digit. They can also be bought individually. But there aren't too many manufacturers.

I'm kind of curious if there are more stations selling at \$4.43 or \$4.45 than \$4.44 just because they don't have the appropriate digits. (I would have asked a similar question at \$3.33 or \$2.22. And I'll ask it again if we get to \$5.55.) Stations might also price at \$4.39 instead of \$4.40, or \$4.50 instead of \$4.49, for similar reasons. It sounds like some of them are improvising digits, but reporters wouldn't know if a particular station charging \$4.43 is doing this or not; it could only be figured out by looking at large amounts of data, and I'm not that curious.

And in New Hampshire some stations are pricing gas by the half-gallon, because their pumps can't handle prices higher than \$3.999. So they indicate that they're doing so, set the pump at something like \$2.05, and charge double what the pump reads, namely \$4.10. Apparently some people are troubled by the mathematical demands this places on the consumer:
"If for no other reason, half pricing is confusing and can be inconvenient for the customer. When I buy gasoline I stop the pump at the dollar amount I want to spend. So let's say I have \$60 to spend and the meter, if it's on half pricing — reads \$31.50 and I forgot to stop it at \$30, what do I do?" he said.

I hope people can double and halve in their heads. But there's the psychological issue -- they might forget to.