It is not a secret that we all depend on fossil fuel for all our movements be it in your own vehicle or the public transport.
As Sri Lankans we are now faced with an extremely frustrating situation due to the non-availability of fuel through the system that is in place for fuel importation, refinery and distribution.
This is an issue that is affecting all citizens, rich or poor with most of their operations coming to a standstill. As I understand this is the first time that such a situation has arisen throughout our history.
However, while there is a major difficulty in the sourcing front, I also feel that there is a greater panic created through poor management of the fuel distribution both at the bulk refinery end and also the dispenser end so lets us see some of the areas that need to use of some management tools and decisions in order to manage the end user distribution and reduce panic in the minds of customers.
Delivery of fuel to the stations:
This is currently done in a very ad hoc manner without looking at data such as the past order volumes and purchase patterns.
In my view no delivery should happen prior to checking and confirming capacity availability and all other required parameters needed.
Issuing of fuel at the dispenser level:
Today if you analyze over 80% of the vehicles that enter the fuel stations fill a full tank of fuel and in many cases although they don’t need such a volume. This is natural when the consumers have no faith in the undertakings given by the authority. However, by this, while one vehicle will get its two weeks’ requirement of fuel some will not even get sufficient volume to drive back home. So, one way to control this is to ration the issuing of fuel to vehicles based on some logic.
Maybe the rupee value is a good way to manage this as it will reduce waiting time and will shorten the time spent by a motorist in the station. The rationing can be as per type of vehicle such as Rs.10K max for a SUV, Rs.5K for a car etc. If you do this the limited but available fuel can be fairly distributed to most customers while reducing the time they have to spend in the queue. In this system if any customer wants more fuel for a longer run maybe they can go for a second-round filling but I am sure this will have to be limited to a minimum number of vehicles.
Managing the queue:
This is very unfortunate. If you visit most fuel stations, you will see that there is no proper system to manage the fuel queue. However, it is critical at this moment to manage the queue properly in order to reduce customer fatigue and also to minimize confrontations between customers and in many cases even with the fuel stations staff. In most queues there is no indication to show whether it is for petrol or diesel, or even 92 octane or 95. We need to understand that not all customers will be able to see the vehicles in a queue and identify which fuel line they need to join. So proper signage is a must.
Proper signage and communication:
This is another area that needs immediate action. There has to be proper signage to communicate matters to customers. There is often hand written notes pasted on the dispensers with no proper clarity. This has to be immediately attended to by those responsible.
The other requirement is to have a notice of availability at the end of the queue. In many instances you find the type of fuel you need is not available only once you reach the station itself, but by this time maybe you have wasted your valuable time, added to the agony of others and also blocked many others from fueling early. It has to be mandatory for each fuel station to have an employee at the end of the queue with proper signage to communicate the proper queue and availability to customers before they join the queue.
Limit filling of cans and barrels:
This is another simple matter that can be resolved by rationing the volume of fuel issued for cans. It can be based on the type of fuel such as diesel and petrol. For example, it can be a max of 30L of diesel and 20 liters of petrol. A pre-filled can for two and three wheelers may help as well if practical, as an interim measure. (However, a separate system has to be in place for issuing fuel for industrial and agricultural purposes)
However, kerosene that is essential for the general public especially those who live in the flats and apartments have to be distributed out. This can be through a few bowsers or small tanks such as the “Boomithel Cart” that we all used to know. Here also a good method is to ration the volume that is issued in order to control the panic and manage violent behavior of these segments of citizens. (However, it is also critical to explain the real situation to these segments in order to gain their support)
Using IOC fuel stations and dispensers:
The fuel distribution network as I know is planned, considering the spread of the fuel stations. This must be planned based on the vehicle density, demand and capacity in each station. The half operative IOC network surely creates a rush in the Ceypetco stations. Therefore, if legally and technically possible CPC (or the government) should consider hiring the IOC stations and operate either through them or independently. This will ease off pressure on the Ceypetco network and help manage distribution better.
Promoting organizations who purchases fuel for production / other day to day operational work to invest to have its storing tanks where CPC or IOC will provide a direct delivery deepening on their requirement at a discounted price (Price in-between MRP and price delivered to fuel stations)
Although, there can be many more methods of managing the shortage of fuel which I believe is a short-term problem, if some of the above ideas are considered and implemented after further process study, we may be able to manage this situation until we are ready for a full swing, which might take a longer time due to all-round pressures the whole world is going through.