Sunday, July 27, 2008

All hands to the pumps!

Motorists are finding the current increases in petrol/diesel prices a big drain on their income. I know to fill up my tank it is now costing well over €53 compared to €40 a year ago. The official statistics confirm this with diesel prices increasing a massive 65% in the last 4 years and petrol prices increasing by almost 40%.

Despite repeated calls from CAI and others to Government to do their bit by reducing either excise or VAT on petrol/diesel they have steadfastly refused to do so. The irony of course in all this is that high petrol/diesel prices are in the interests of Government because the higher the price the greater the amount of VAT revenue generated for the Exchequer.

However given the huge hole fuel costs are burning in all our incomes, it is not enough for Government to sit back and tell us to shop around, they have a duty to assist us in that regard. Therefore there are three things the should be doing (which I am calling Fuelwatch Ireland) to assist motorists with high fuel costs and to drive greater competition at the pumps! As a preface I want to say that I am in favour of measures to car journeys and oil dependency, but that cannot be achieved overnight and we all don't live within walking distance of public transport, so in the meantime something must be done.

It could consist of the following aspects.

A statutory fuel price database where all service stations in the state would be legally required to register their current prices so that consumers could check online where they could get the cheapest prices in their area. Fuelwatch Ireland would be based on the very successful fuelwatch database in Western Australia which is now being expanded across Australia. Legislation would be required to ensure all service stations comply with the scheme.

There are a number of websites already which provide information on petrol and diesel prices and those running these websites must be commended for the assistance and information they provide. However since there is no obligation on the stations to cooperate with these websites and they depend on information being sent in by motorists and in some cases the prices can be out of date. A statutory website would include all stations and would ensure that the information provided was up to date. Like the grocery price surveys, this would assist consumers to shop around and get the best price. It works very well in Australia, I cannot see any reason why it couldn't work here. It would be quick, easy and cheap to do.

I also think we need to investigate the price of fuel at the pump. I would really like to see the Government commission a study to investigate whether fuel prices in Ireland have increased in line with global prices or if price increases have surpassed global oil prices. Also would be useful to examine the extent to which price decreases have been passed onto the consumer at the pump as quickly as price increases appear to be. I have no evidence to indicate that price reductions are not being passed on, but given the significant fluctuations in price in the last year, it is important to make sure that the current volatile market situation is not being exploited further.

And finally I think we could assist motorists to maximize fuel efficiency when using their car which would be good not only for the pocket, but also kinder on the environment. I am not an expert on this, but the Government could develop and distribute practical information to all motorists on the national vehicle register on how they can reduce their fuel costs. All register vehicle owners could be sent a leaflet and this information could also be put online. While this leaflet would outline the options for reducing car use, it would also provide information on how motorists could reduce fuel use even while using their car. It would cover areas such as servicing, speed and driving patterns, tyre type etc where consumers could reduce their fuel use which we don't always think about in relation to reducing costs, well I don't anyhow. This could be easily done with the assistance of motoring experts.

Basically in my humble opinion it's time for the Government to do something to assist motorists given the high cost of fuel. They can't reduce the price of a barrel of oil, but they make a contribution and these proposals would go some way to allievate all our pain at the pumps!

Petrol protests Indonesian style!