Credit cards for fuel

2009-05-11 00:00

The Minerals and Energy Department has announced that motorists may soon be able to use their credit cards to pay for petrol and diesel at fuel stations — that is, if the public signals its approval of the draft bill, published in the Government Gazette and on the department’s website. If it is approved, the move will have several positive implications. Most obviously, it would contribute to the fight against crime, first because motorists without petrol cards wouldn’t have to carry large amounts of cash, and, second, because fuel stations, no longer keeping quantities of cash on the premises, would be less vulnerable to criminal attack. Also, the use of credit cards would be ideal for the Confederations Cup and the 2010 Soccer World Cup events, as thousands of tourists and sports fanatics will be visiting the country and will expect to be able to travel freely, using their credit cards country wide without fear of being victims of crime.

At first sight, it all seems so simple and so practical that one wonders why the department has waited this long. However, as with many things in South Africa, the sale of fuel is complicated. The price is regulated by the government and subject to monthly change, and having to cope with this, especially when there is a major drop in fuel price, is often difficult for fuel station owners, and it might be next to impossible for them to absorb the costs of credit card transactions as well. Many might decide that if they’re to survive the introduction of credit cards and stay in business they’ll have to move towards automation and self-service — as is done in many northern hemisphere countries — to offset the cost. And that would mean petrol pump attendants would lose their jobs at a time of financial crisis and serious job shortages.

So, if credit cards are to be introduced, the logical step to take along with it is to protect the jobs in the industry by deregulating the fuel price, allowing those who sell fuel to compete for custom — exactly like the vendors of any other commodity. Logical, simple, practical and as obvious as it was years ago when influential supermarket chains campaigned for it. They lost then. Is the idea any more likely to fly in 2009?

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