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Sheer Madness at Costco Gas

Motorists line up at Costco’s gas station at its Scarborough location.

Over the past couple months, Costco, the members-only wholesaler better known for its massive quantities of just about everything, added gasoline to its product line by opening gas stations at its Etobicoke and Scarborough locations. What’s resulted could best be described as utter insanity.

Stopping by the Costco in Scarborough, near Warden and Highway 401, on Sunday, we spot about fifty cars queued at the pumps—followed by at least a hundred more waiting to enter the queue from both directions at the entrance on Canadian Road (above). A point-duty police officer was at the site entrance, directing traffic, and motorists generally seemed content to idle their cars and wait their turn.
The purpose of all this waiting and idling? To save seven cents per litre. On Sunday, Costco’s 103.9 cents per litre provided a seven-cent savings over the 110.9 cents per litre at other retailers.
Sure, the seven-cent saving could add up: on a fifty-litre gas tank, that’s a savings of $3.50.
But is it really worth it?
Based on the rate that the line-up was crawling into the station, each car waited over an hour to reach the pump. Ignoring the value of the drivers’ time, do the motorists realize they are wasting fuel and money idling their engines in line? According to Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency, every ten minutes spent idling in your vehicle consumes an average of 300 to 500 millilitres of gas. After an hour, a motorist could have wasted up to three litres of gas just idling, or $3.10 of Costco-branded gasoline—negating almost all of the perceived savings.
The lineups at Costco’s gas bars defy rationality and reason. Worse, it’s justified the fears of nearby residents who previously fought, then lost, the fight over Costco placing the gas station at the Scarborough location on the grounds of increased traffic congestion in their neighbourhood. And if the motorists don’t win, and the residents around the corner don’t either, what’s the point?
Photos by Laurence Lui/Torontoist.


  • http://undefined smasharts

    Well, gosh, what do you expect them to do? Ride bikes or something? I think your story is so negative! These people can use the wait time to call friends and family, catch up on crosswords, perhaps chat with whoever got caught with them in the car when they decided to pop over to the station to get gas. Think of the things you can accomplish in the car while you wait! Perhaps someone will think up a cure for cancer while they wait – something you can’t do on a bike when you are avoiding line ups for cars. Geez, you make it sound like an hour to wait for gas fill up is wasted time.

  • CanadianSkeezix

    They could do any of that anywhere, they don’t have to be sitting in car, wasting gas and spewing exhaust into the atmosphere.

  • http://undefined Jevon

    It’s what people want man. They’ll figure out whether it is worth it or not after a few long waits. Whether it means just paying the higher rates at other stations, or going to Costco at less busy times.
    People aren’t all idiots, like you seem to think, they will be alright.

  • http://undefined Cultosaurus

    smasharts forgot to add his /sarcasm flag

  • http://undefined Cultosaurus

    None of this behaviour is surprising, in fact it’s expected.

  • CanadianSkeezix

    I’ve never really understood the appeal of Costco. While I appreciate that they have a good reputation for treating their employees well, which is a big plus, I find their stores underwhelming. The food, which some people rave about, is okay I guess – lots of mediocre factory-farm meats and bulk packages of condiments. There was rarely anything I ever needed. The prices were generally good, but not as outstanding as I’d been led to believe, and I think it all balanced out anyway with the need to pay an annual fee for the membership. Maybe if I had 4 kids, the prices and bulk sizes would be more enticing.

  • qviri

    Word. Let the free market work. Toronto is open for business.

  • http://undefined avp77

    I agree, seems to a be a bit of an over-reaction to make this a story. There’s really two big factors at play here, the discount gas station is brand new, *and* there’s been a recent spike in gas prices. If it’s still this way after a few months, then it’s something out of the ordinary.

  • http://undefined AR

    Brilliant sarcasm. Cancer cure? Obviously, few people, even researchers have a personal rolling lab or can make research grants happen in an hour. No one got it, but the last time is revealing. There’s a chance you might be able to do something useful while waiting (it’s doubtful), but the actual act of simply waiting to fill up not being a waste of time? Nice work.

  • http://undefined mhoye

    And if the motorists don’t win, and the residents around the corner don’t either, what’s the point?
    Stopping the gravy train?

  • mark.

    None of this really surprises me. Years ago when I had a car (out in BC), people would drive about 10kms to the next town when gas there would be 7 or 8 cents cheaper. I could convince anyone that the drive there and back made it pointless.
    It might be worth comparing this psychology/attitude to people who insist on not paying 5 cents for a bag, but don’t think twice about paying more than they have to for just about anything. I’ve actually seen people sipping a Starbucks latte while outraged a plastic bag will cost 5 cents. I have a sense that people at the Costco gas station believe they are ‘sticking it’ to the big gas companies.

  • mark.

    *could = couldn’t

  • http://undefined syncros

    I was at the Etobicoke Costco shopping on Sunday and saw at least 50 cars in line (stretching up to Queensway). I noted the price of gas and as we drove away we passed another gas station that was advertising a price within a cent or two.. no huge lineup. Its the Costco mentality they thrive on, you believe everything there is cheap even when it isn’t.

  • http://undefined AR

    Evidently, the market wants socialist-style waits for basic, everyday goods. Strange :P

  • http://undefined Blake

    I used the Etobicoke gas station for the first few weeks it was open, however it’s just gotten ridiculous. I think I was the only one turning off my car as I waited, at that time no more than a five or six car wait.
    One thing I can’t stand is when drive through line ups spill out onto city streets and this is certainly happening here. Can’t the city use the anti-idling bylaw here to stop the lines?


    If Laurence is planning a follow up story on this it would be great if he could get any of the waiting motorists to talk to him. Would make for a valuable ethnographic study.

  • Laura Leung

    Wow, that is really interesting… I would love to check it out but the thought of waiting an hour(!) for something that averages less the 5 minutes is… illogical. (I’d like to think my time is worth more than 3.50 savings in fuel.) I too would like to see what kind of people/cars are filling up on at these gas stations, as I’m sure there will be some sort of demographic trend correlating to upper middle class housewives who have more money than brains.

  • JD

    I would suggest checking your facts(or facts) pertaining to 3L in an hour lost to idling….

    lets put it this way, 50L x $0.07 =savings of $3.5 per fillup
    Your rate = 10mins/ 300ml…converted to Litres =10mins/0.3L
    After 1hour = .3 x 6 = 1.8L
    1.8L x $0.07 is NOT $3.10 of wasted gas from idling.

    • Mathtutor

      JD you need a math tutor, mate. 1.8 liters x cost per liter is your cost, not 1.8litre x 7 cents