The recent spike in the price of gas is motivating more people to fuel up and flee, station owners say.
The news comes as gas prices dropped across Canada on Friday, about five cents a litre in some cities, including Ottawa.
The average price in Ottawa on Friday morning dropped to about $1.28 a litre and the average across Canada declined to about $1.33. But that refuge for drivers is not expected to last, according to gas price experts.
Earlier this week, prices jumped well above $1.30 in Ottawa. They also rose by as much as 13 cents in Montreal on Wednesday, to a high of $1.53 per litre for regular.
The price hike has also cost some gas station owners.
"Gas price goes up and it's always hectic. People try to take off," said Rahul Thakker, who manages the Drummond Gas station in Ottawa.
"In a couple of days, I had $180 drive off."
Surveillance video not always enough evidence
Drummond Gas has surveillance video of three drivers taking off. One man was caught stealing $69 worth of gas, but station owners say even video evidence is sometimes not enough to file a police report.
Some drivers are covering their licence plates when they gas and dash, while others are removing their plates.
The answer, according to police, is forcing all customers to prepay.
"I just came back from a trip to the States and what they do there, no matter what time of day, you have to pay for your gas ahead of time," said Const. Marc Soucy, spokesman for Ottawa police.
"To me, that would save a lot of trouble."
But managers and owners at smaller gas stations, which are not part of chains such as Esso, Petro-Canada or Shell, say they are not willing to be the first to force all customers to prepay 24 hours a day, even though, they admit, smaller establishments are hardest hit by theft.
"You cannot do it alone," said Joe Saab, owner of Ottawa's Saab Gas Centre. "The big majors have to lead the market, and when that happens, we'll follow it."
Saab also said he worries frustrated customers would avoid the prepay option and go to the major chains.