FuelCheck, the NSW Government’s fuel price information website officially launched this week on Wednesday to mixed reviews by service station operators.
To date, 2036 service stations have registered to the website across NSW which gives consumers real time access to petrol prices around the state.
Service station data entry process
For retailers to make a price change through the FuelCheck website, users log in using their mobile phone number. FuelCheck then responds seconds later, sending a unique verification code via email and SMS. This code which must be entered in order to complete the login.
The user then identifies the relevant service station in their profile, changes the fuel price and confirms their update. All interactions with FuelCheck are logged and this information is available to the station owner.
C&I Week spoke to a range of operators to see how they were coping with the new data entry requirements and, while not all teething problems had been resolved, most fuel retailers are compliant with the new system.
Eddy Nader, MD of Nader Petroleum – which operates five BP sites in NSW, told C&I Week, that despite a few teething issues, the FuelCheck app offers more “accountability and security” then other real-time petrol price apps.
“The FuelCheck system is ok; it is a five or 10 minute process to load the data to the website. We’ve got to roll with the punches and do what the government wants us to do.”
“What the consumer will get out of it, I don’t know; we already have priceboards and consumers can look around. Are consumers honestly going to sit on the app and spend five minutes and go out their way on the way to work?” Mr Nader said.
Mr Nader admitted there had been some initial problems for him and his petrol sites with the website during the three month pre-launch trial period.
“At one of our stores, we were uploading our prices to the website, but there was a problem at [NSW Fair Trading’s] end and they were not registering the data. They’ve fixed it now. But still, it was a common concern at meeting of fuel retailers today, that there were teething problems at [NSW Fair Trading’s] end.”
The security systems in place on the FuelCheck website have created headaches for some, while other operators expressed frustration with processes around registration and data submission.
One multi-site operator told C&I that, as some of his oil-company-owned locations where initially registered by the oil company itself, he has effectively been locked out of the FuelCheck system. He said Fair Trading would not reassign the location and he has “desperately tried to talk to them” so that he can upload his data.
“After over 10 phone calls and several emails”, the situation remains unresolved and, as a result, no data has been submitted for the affected locations. The operator said he is “relying on assurances from [NSW] Fair Trading” that he will not be fined.
In Mr Nader’s case, despite two stores sharing a manager, the system would only allow the manager to upload prices for one of the two stores.
“At first, NSW Fair Trading told me that the ‘add on’ person [employees who are authorised to enter data and change price information] could only do one store with their phone number. I explained that would not work where you had shared or relief staff. They’ve fixed that now,” Mr Nader said.
“So while there are teething problems, I definitely prefer the FuelCheck app to ones that allow consumers or competitors to enter price information; there’s more security and accountability with FuelCheck.
Increasing costs or competition?
Despite the difficulties encountered, most operators remain positive, and welcome the price transparency and disclosure.
Diann Melas, who operates the Budget Petrol group of 60 service stations, says her experience with the FuelCheck website has been mainly positive and she expects that the impact of the new website will be to see more price competition generally.
Ms Melas told C&I Week that in the lead up to the launch of the FuelCheck website, NSW Fair Trading had been in regular email communication and the overall process had been fairly straightforward.
With the launch of the site, Ms Melas is “looking forward to the opportunity the website offers for independent operators to show their pricing”.
Another fuel retailer told C&I that while he welcomed the public availability of price information, regulation inevitably adds to operators’ costs and “ultimately it is the motorist who pays for it”.
“Last year the issue was price boards, this year it’s FuelCheck and now it’s biofuel,” the store owner said.
“The more legislation in place the more costs go up; it’s easy to report that margins are up, but the price of land; wages; even garbage removal have all gone up too, fuel retailers are not having it easy.”
NSW Fair Trading responds
According to a spokesperson, NSW Fair Trading has been “working closely with the fuel industry” to help them prepare for the introduction of FuelCheck.
The spokesperson told C&I Week the department would initially take an “educative approach to compliance, contacting the service station involved to determine what the issue is and why it has occurred”.
The spokesperson admitted there had been some confusion among operators as to whether responsibility for sending price information fell to franchisees or franchisor’s head office, however, she said Fair Trading was working with store staff.
“NSW Fair Trading is aware that there has been confusion amongst some franchise owners as to whether they will send their prices to FuelCheck or whether this responsibility will be handled by the franchisor’s head office.
“There have also been cases where the registration information provided by service stations operators has been incorrect (duplicate records, incorrect address, etc).
“Staff have been working through each of these issues to ensure that each service station has the right person (or entity) registered and able to access FuelCheck.”
NSW Fair Trading’s general approach to compliance is outlined its ‘Compliance and Enforcement Policy’.