Under new proposals announced today, motorway service areas may be forced to advertise the price of petrol sold by rival companies on digital roadside motorway displays. It's hoped that this kind of transparency will encourage a reduction in fuel prices. A Downing Street source said "...the problem on the motorway is that fuel prices are only ever advertised on the forecourt, [this being the legal requirement] and by the time you have pulled off the motorway and stopped it is often more trouble than it is worth to go onto the next service station - in particular as you have no idea whether it will be any cheaper”.
The proposals mimic the system currently used across the channel. In France, the law requires motorway service stations to advertise the price of petrol at the roadside for subsequent outlets even if different companies run them. Andrew Grice of the Independent hopes this will ‘shame service stations in to cutting prices’, whilst The Telegraph's Peter Dominiczak describes current overcharging as akin to 'highway robbery' - concluding that the proposals should encourage service stations to be more fair.
The French system appears to be having the desired effect. The sign above (on the French A10 Paris to Bordeaux autoroute) shows all of the service stations for the next few Kilometers pricing their fuel competitively.
The RAC welcomed Mr Cameron’s proposal. Pete Williams, a spokesman, said: “Compelling the fuel retailer to display their prices clearly before the service station will ensure that drivers get some warning of how much they are likely to be fleeced when they fill up", continuing to say how service stations have “…held the motorist to ransom for far too long – let’s hope that Number 10 encourages them to sort out their food prices and their parking charges too.”
The recent OFT petrol and diesel report revealed that higher fuel prices may also be caused by the higher costs of running motorway forecourts – and higher rent for these locations. (Interestingly, much of the land motorway service stations are built on is still owned by the government, so rent for these locations in many cases ends up in the government's hands).
However, the OFT report did explain that "...motorway prices may also be higher because consumers are less likely to shop around. Drivers who buy fuel on the motorway may have little choice but to pay a higher price if they are running low on fuel and most drivers are unlikely to want to leave the motorway to search for cheaper fuel. The fact that drivers are not able to view prices until they have pulled into the service station makes it particularly difficult for drivers to decide where to buy."
Whether or not these proposals will come to fruition or not remains to be seen - but one sure-fire way of reducing the amount of money you spend on fuel would be to invest in a new economical car. You don't necessarily have to downsize either - as advances in car technology have seen more manufacturers introducing an “Eco” or “Blue” range.