Mexico Gets First Independent Gas Station In Over 75 Years
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
For the first time in nearly 80 years, Mexicans can fill up their cars in a gas station not run by the state-run petroleum monopoly. Since the 1930s, Pemex, Mexico's gas and oil monopoly, has own every gas station in the country and controlled all the prices.
This month two companies opened new gas stations around the country, and Mexicans hope that the competition will eventually bring down prices. That's something that was promised two years ago. That's when lawmakers passed reforms and opened the state-run monopoly to private investment. NPR's Carrie Kahn sent this report.
BLANCA SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: "Welcome to Hidrosina," says attendant Blanca Sanchez dressed in finely pressed blue coveralls ready to pump gas. How much will it be today?
SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: She punches in the amount and shouts allowed that the pump is reading all zeros, putting the driver at ease that a few pesos haven't been patted on the front end, a common complaint in many gas stations. It's full service with a smile, clean restrooms and a well-stocked convenience store.
ANDRES ROA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Andres Roa said he had heard about the new station and came to check it out. So far he was liking the service. All the other stations in the country are the standard green and red operations of the Pemex monopoly. Here, Hidrosina put its name on the station in one of the busiest intersections near downtown Mexico City. The Mexican company is planning to open 20 more by year's end. Two other independents opened under La Gas brand in southern states.
The biggest draw to this independent station is the huge digital neon sign out front illuminating the price per liter. With no other options available before and the cost set by the government, there was no need to put the price out in full view. Driver Roa says it's time Pemex had some competition.
ROA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Roa says, "as other monopolies have been broken up in the country like the telephone company, we finally got better service and lower prices." Unfortunately those savings aren't coming any time too soon. Victor Ruiz Iriarte heads up operations for Hidrosina.
VICTOR RUIZ IRIARTE: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "Today," says Ruiz, "there's only one distributor in the country still with the capacity to get gas to all the stations, and that's Pemex." And his company is tied to contracts already penned with the company well into 2018. But he says change is coming, and he wants Hidrosina to win over loyal clients before foreign competitors flood in. A U.S.-based company plans to open four new gas stations in Mexico this year.
Consumers I talked to like Argelia Dominguez weren't worried about a foreign takeover of Mexico's national oil company, a fear echoed by thousands who held street protests two years ago trying to block the reforms.
ARGELIA DOMINGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Dominguez says, "having options changes everything for the better," she says. For now gas customers at the new independent stations will have to settle for loyalty promotions instead of lower prices. At this station, frequent buyers will get cell phone discount cards and movie tickets. In the other two stations in the south of the country, it's cheap bottled water or an ice cream at Burger King. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.
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