Is SA ready for DIY petrol stations?

By Chelsea Geach And Kieran Legg Time of article published Sep 11, 2013

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Cape Town - The nationwide petrol attendant strike has seen calls for big oil companies to consider installing self-service pumps at their petrol stations.

But while the move would put South Africa in line with First World economies such as the US and UK, industry experts have warned that adoption of the pumps locally could result in widespread unemployment.

Self-service pumps were first introduced in the 1970s. Initially the system was built on trust, with motorists filling up before paying at the station's shop.

But this quickly made way for the credit card-based system which has been proposed for South Africa. According to the Cape Chamber of Commerce's Michael Bagraim, the “swipe system” would be best for the country. This would see pumps activated by the swipe of a credit, debit or dedicated petrol card before motorists could manually refuel their cars.

The US has almost unilaterally adopted the same system, and over the past three years, stations in developing countries such as India, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates have begun rolling it out.

But the “swipe system” is not the only option. In the UK, many petrol stations still allow motorists to fill up before paying at a shop inside.

However, motorists are constantly monitored by CCTV cameras and the footage is later reviewed, with companies taking note of drivers who speed off before paying.

Stations in the south of France have their own “cagey” approach. Motorists are essentially locked in once they enter the forecourt.

Bagraim said the technology behind the “swipe system” meant there were no safety concerns at all.

“You can link your car to your credit card.”

He said Israel had already implemented the technology. But despite the positives of adopting the system, Bagraim said he was still opposed to it, stating that it would see countless workers lose their jobs and only add to growing unemployment.

A manager at a city petrol station, who did not want to be named, told the Cape Argus: “I don't think our country can afford self service. Our mindset isn't ready for it.”

But he said the system would put an end to “drive-offs”, a common occurrence which saw motorists speed away without paying for their petrol.

Temporary petrol attendant Craig Felix, who has been filling in during the strike, said self service was a massive safety concern.

“I wouldn't like to have to get out of my car to put petrol in. It's not safe in some areas.”

Avhapfani Tshifularo, executive director of the South African Petroleum Industry Association, said self service would simply not work in the country. “Nobody is allowed to fill up his own tank at a petrol station according to the law which protects 70 000 jobs at a retail level.”

For Mxolisi Ratsibe, head of employee relations at the National Petroleum Employee Association, the debate boiled down to one glaring downside. “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Cape Argus

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