Nine thousand northern California service stations plan to close down the weekend of May 18-20 to protest federal price controls, but so far the idea has not caught on among dealers in the Washington area.
"I do not believe our membership would support a nationwide shutdown at this time," said James W. Heizer, executive director of the Virginia Gasoline Retailers Association after he canvassed members.
Vic Rasheed, executive director of the Greater Washington-Maryland Service Station Association, could not be reached for comment. He was in Phoenix attending a meeting of Arizona dealers who voted not to go along with the northern California dealers.
It is not clear how may dealers in the country will participate. An Associated Press report said yesterday that the idea is gaining popularity among dealers in Iowa, Connecticut, Illinois and some other states.
Heizer said Virginia dealers strongly resent federal price controls but think such a protest should be used only as a "last resort" because of the inconvenience it would cause customers.
"We are quite concerned over the fact that the Department of Energy cannot seem to control the greed of the oil companies, some of whom have raised their prices as much as 9 cents a gallon since Jan. 1, while they harass the title service station dealer . . ." Heizer said.
There are federal controls on the wholesale prices that oil companies may charge dealers and separate controls on the prices that the individual dealers themselves may charge customers.
The dealers are required by law to place "maximum price" stickers on each pump, and Heizer was referring to a new DOE auditing and enforcement effort to ensure that dealers do this.
Heizer said that in Virginia wholesale prices charged to dealers for regular gasoline increased 7.8 cents a gallon on the average during the first quarter this year-a 1l.6 percent increase.
He said dealer maximum allowable margins have not increased at all during that period, and have increased only 16.2 percent since 1973-a period during which wholesale gasoline prices have gone up 191 percent. Dealers are allowed to pass on directly to customers the wholesale price increases they are charged by the oil companies.
An Associated Press survey last week showed Washington area gasoline prices only slightly higher than the national average-77.3 cents for regular, 81.7 unleaded and 83.9 premium in Washington.
Supplies of gasoline will continue to be curtailed nationwide this month, causing widespread Sunday closings of stations. Lines have been reported at some stations in the country.
Exxon, with 400 stations in the Washington area, is the leading gasoline retailer here. It will deliver about the same amount of gasoline to dealers that it did last month and "only slightly less" than was delivered to stations in May a year ago, an Exxon spokesman said.
While there is enought crude oil available to supply American motorists with all they want this spring and summer, the oil companies are not doing so in order to build their stocks for the heating season next fall and winter, according to oil company spokesmen.