SAN FRANCISCO (May 3, 2016) — A new crop of start-ups is trying to make gasoline stations obsolete.
Tap an app and they'll bring the fuel to you, filling up your car while you're at work, eating breakfast or watching Netflix.
Filld Inc., WeFuel Inc., Yoshi Inc., Purple Services Inc. and Booster Fuels Inc. have started operating in a few cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Calif., Nashville, Tenn., and Atlanta. But officials in some of those cities say that driving around in a pickup truck with hundreds of gallons of gasoline might not be safe.
“It is not permitted,” said Lt. Jonathan Baxter, a spokesman for the San Francisco fire department. Adding that if San Francisco residents see any companies fueling vehicles in the city, they should call the fire department.
Yoshi, which operates in San Francisco, was surprised to hear Mr. Baxter's concerns.
“We haven't talked to them. I don't know about that. It's news to me,” said co-founder Nick Alexander. The next day, he said he believed Yoshi was following the law and that it had been careful to limit the size of its fuel tanks to stay under limits outlined in the International Fire Code, a guideline followed by many U.S. states.
Filld, an 18-month-old startup with thousands of customers in Silicon Valley, planned to start service in San Francisco May 2, deploying three delivery trucks. “You can never ask for permission because no one will give it,” said Chris Aubuchon, the CEO at Filld.
The Los Angeles Fire Department said it's drafting a policy around gasoline delivery.
“Our current fire code does not allow this process; however, we are exploring a way this could be allowed with some restrictions,” said Capt. Daniel Curry, a spokesman for the city's fire department. “It's just one of these things that nobody has really thought about before — kind of like how Uber popped up out of nowhere.”
But he said it's not a gray area: “All I can tell you at this time is it's not allowed as per our current fire code.”
Bruno Uzzan, the CEO of Los Angeles-based Purple, said his company is in discussions with the fire department. “I don't know that guy,” he said of Mr. Curry. When asked if Purple would stop delivering gasoline, he replied, “No. Why should we?” Later, Mr. Uzzan said: “The way we currently operate is permitted by the code.”
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Booster Fuels told customers in February that it was halting fuel delivery there at the behest of the Santa Clara Fire Department. The company said the city is reviewing its permit application. Filld's Mr. Aubuchon said that fire department also told his company to cease operations in the county. But Filld has continued operating. “We basically said, ‘We strive to be safe in every way to the consumer, and this is exactly what we do, and we welcome dialog,'” he said. “If it was illegal, they would have and should have told us many months ago.”
Jennifer Yamaguma, a spokeswoman for Santa Clara, said the city manager is compiling a report on gasoline-delivery businesses, which the city council will review. Atlanta's fire department referred a request to the Georgia Department of Transportation, which did not respond to a request for comment. The fire department in Nashville declined to comment.
“We have to look at the safety of everyone,” said Mr. Baxter, the San Francisco fire department spokesman. “You could imagine what could happen if a fueling truck went into a parking garage under a commercial or residential building, it would not be a good outcome.”
On a recent Monday morning, about 40 miles south of San Francisco, Mr. Aubuchon carefully drove a Ford F-250 pickup truck with 324 gallons of gasoline into a hospital parking garage in Palo Alto, Calif. The truck — also loaded with a pump, two fire extinguishers, a bucket of chalk to absorb spills, two orange traffic cones and a receipt printer — nearly grazed the ceiling of the garage as its radio antenna whipped around. Mr. Aubuchon was looking for a silver Mini Cooper.