Are gas stations following law to ensure disabled customers receive assistance?

News 6 goes undercover to get results for disabled drivers at the pump

By Matt Austin - Anchor

ORLANDO, Fla. - For most, pumping gas is no big deal, but if you're in a wheelchair, it can be the most stressful part of your day.

That's why in 2013, Florida lawmakers set guidelines for gas stations, but in a News 6 investigation, we found some local stations were not playing by the rules.

Read more on the law here

It's a problem News 6 anchor Matt Austin first heard about from his father-- and realized if he's having an issue, Central Floridians have to be having trouble, too. So they went undercover to get results.

"So are you going to be Thelma today or Louise?" asked Austin.

"I'm the crazy driver," said Chuck Austin, Matt's father.

The Austin boys haven't taken a road trip in years. Chuck has had a broken neck for the past 27 years. He can drive, but can't walk, so he uses a wheelchair. Pumping gas can really be a pain, because it takes a lot of time to get in and out of his specialized van-- and having assistance at the pump really makes a huge difference.

So the Austin's checked out five different gas stations to see if they were complying with the law. Each station should have a 15-square-inch sticker on the pump with a phone number customer can use to call for help.

They started at WaWa.

"Yeah, I'm on pump 20, handicapped, can I get some assistance?" asked Chuck. "That sounded promising, that sounded unbelievable."

Easy to read sticker, fast, friendly service; it took about a minute to get help.

"You were amazing," said Austin.

"We are always like that. All the WaWas have to be like that," said the employee.

"Thank you so much for doing that."

They had similar success at Race Trac, and a Shell station. Both were well equipped..

"It's just guest satisfaction, I'm just making sure our customers are taken care of," said the employee.

"Were you about to go home?" asked Austin.

"I was about to but I got a few minutes for you," said the employee.

But the happy road trip hit a snag at the Downey Food Mart on Colonial Drive. Instead of a sticker,  they found a small button.

"There's no sticker," said Austin. "They're not complying with the law here."

They pushed the button about five times and nothing happened, so they went inside to ask why.

"I'm confused, when they push the button what happens inside?" asked Austin.

"I mean, if somebody says that somebody's right here then we may go out and we try to help them out," said the clerk.

"But the button doesn't work?" asked Austin.

"You mean the gas button?" asked the clerk.

"He pushed the handicapped button and you didn't hear anything in here?" asked Austin.

"No, we don't have any system inside it," said the clerk.

As for Florida law, the clerk had no idea. 

Here is what the law states: (5)(a) Every full-service gasoline station offering self-service at a lesser cost shall require an attendant employed by the station to dispense gasoline from the self-service portion of the station to any motor vehicle properly displaying an exemption parking permit as provided in s. 316.1958 or s.320.0848 or a license plate issued pursuant to s. 320.084, s. 320.0842, s. 320.0843, or s. 320.0845when the person to whom such permit has been issued is the operator of the vehicle and such service is requested. Such stations shall prominently display a decal no larger than 8 square inches on the front of all self-service pumps clearly stating the requirements of this subsection and the penalties applicable to violations of this subsection. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall enforce this requirement.

(b)1. When inspecting a self-service gasoline station, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall confirm that a decal is affixed to each pump. The decal must be blue, at least 15 square inches, and clearly display the international symbol of accessibility shown in s.320.0842, the telephone number of the station, and the words “Call for Assistance.” The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services shall adopt rules to implement and enforce this paragraph and shall confirm that the decals conform with this paragraph and are in place by July 1, 2016.

"Now, the law is you guys are supposed to have a phone number on the pump, not just a button. Did you know that?" asked Austin.

"No, I didn't know that," said the clerk.

They left that location without ever getting any assistance. They found more issues at a Citgo on Colonial Drive.

"It says sound horn for service or call number," said Chuck. "I can't read the number."

So they beeped and waited.

"Ok, so right now we're at five minutes and five seconds. We have blown the horn twice, what do you think?" asked Austin.

"I think I'm not getting gas unless I pump it myself," said Chuck.

They went inside to find out what was going on. At first, the manager was frustrated.

"Please, spare us small people. Let us live," said the manager.

"But it doesn't cost any money to write a phone number on the pump and answer the phone," said Austin.

"That is not in my hand, it is not my store," said the manager.

But before they left the gas station, News 6 got results.

"If you just write the number on the pumps, people can call," said Austin. "You just have to write the number on the pumps. That's the law."

"It's the law, then we will write it, we will write it," said the manager.

He followed them out with a marker and wrote the number on each pump so the next disabled customer can get the help they need.

"It's nice to see he would come out here and correct the situation," said Chuck. "We're not out here to pick on people, we're out here to raise awareness."

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