Fuel queue is now an eminent daily curse everyone who owns a two, three or a four wheeler has to face. This is in addition to the agriculture and fisheries sector that is also severely affected. It has become the common enemy of all these segments of consumer groups and fuel is an absolute necessity for daily life of all citizens alike.
It is a fact that there is a shortage of supply for many valid reasons, but it is critical that we manage the supply and distribution of fuel to all user groups so that equal distribution is ensured. Below are some of the proposals that can be put forward for consideration by the authorities in order to reduce the strain on all stakeholders and ensure that the process is managed so that there is minimum stress on all concerned, be it the users, fuel station owners/workers or the authorities.
1. Proper communication to those joining the queue
a. Typically, if you are to hunt for fuel for your vehicle one of the issues most people have is to identify the proper queue to join. We might think that this is easy but practically some drivers may not be able to look at the last vehicle in a queue and decide if it is the petrol or the diesel queue. There is also a need to segregate the fuel lines by the variants of fuel such as Auto Diesel/ Super Diesel or 92 octane/95 octane etc. So, a proper signage at the end of a queue to identify the line will help all users. One simpler requirement is for someone to hold a simple signage informing the arrival details, availability, type of fuel and the quantity or the number of vehicles it can serve.
b. The new app developed will be a great tool once it is fine-tuned, but we need to realize how many of those who stand in these queues will have smartphones and data availability for them to have access to this information. Therefore, information availability physically is a must.
2. Create a “fuel park” in places where there is congestion or where the road space is limited.
Issue a log number for each vehicle that enters the park and vehicles can be called in batches when fuel is available at the relevant station based on these log numbers. This will help in preventing lots of issues people have to face in standing in a long queue, including the availability of sanitary facilities and food availability. For example, there is one fuel station close to the Viharamahadevi park and another right opposite the Nelum Pokuna. So why not use the “Nelum Pokuna” premises (that also have sanitary facilities and also could have a few food outlets set up) to park the vehicles until the fuel arrives and get them to the fuel station once the fuel arrives. (This location can be immediately converted as a pilot project). As indicated two of the main issues that most consumers have specially in Colombo and the main city limits is to find sanitary facilities and food availability. If this is done immediately, it will reduce the tension / stress people have to go through and make the process smoother and also remove most of the issues such as jumping the queue, unnecessary issues due to this etc. This will also avoid strain or damages that might be caused to a vehicle by starting and stopping it many times, and unnecessary fuel burning while moving the vehicle in the fuel queue or keeping the vehicle idle. You can also update the newly developed fuel app so that the consumers can find their turn through the use of this app. (But until this is done it is critical that the relevant municipal councils install a few mobile toilets for consumers in the queue as this is a very critical matter that needs attention immediately).
3. Issue a “fuel card” for each individual through a bank and limit fuel based on the value of quota. We have heard that every disaster has so many opportunities in it. This is a chance for us to regulate the whole set of automotive users be it two / three wheelers or others. This is an opening to ensure that all vehicles are in the users’ name as far as they can be. This can be done through a “fuel card” (Debit or credit through a bank) quite easily as the limit can be issued in terms of value, and without restricting the location. The current indication by the authorities is to limit the quota through registering vehicles in a selected station which is not practical. For example, what about a vehicle that is from Colombo travelling to Kalutara or any other distant location. Are we expecting this vehicle to come back to Colombo for pumping fuel? But a fuel card with a limit based on ownership, type of vehicle or whatever the practical and relevant criteria may be a better way to manage this. There is also a digital based solution that is offered by Dialog and Mobitel using NFC technology. These systems are already proven to be successful and any quota can also be worked through these systems as well without much of a cost and time. It is a simple system where the customer has to have a deposit with the fuel vendor (Say IOC) and the customer can pump fuel to a predefined limit and the data can be monitored by the user and also by the service provider. (For example, each time you pump fuel you get an update of your quota, usage, the limit etc.)
4. Make use of the excess staff that were recruited as government employees to manage the fuel queue including signage, data updating and managing the parks. It is essential that the information is continuously updated both physically and online in order to reduce pressure on all stakeholders.
5. Create an exclusive fuel station in Colombo for pumping fuel for essential services such as doctors/ medical staff, garbage vehicles etc, although it would be extremely difficult to segregate which service is essential or not. All the passenger and tourist buses that are essential can be issued fuel through the CTB fuel pumps but may be also with a quota so that it will not create a new business opportunity of pumping and selling fuel. One more option to think of is to have few exclusive fuel stations catering to the commercial vehicles where there is sufficient space for accommodating them.
6. Pre-filled “fuel can” for two and three wheelers – For a fact we know that most two/three wheelers generally pump 2-5 liters at a given time. So a pre-filled “fuel can” may be a good way to reduce the queue for the 2 and 3 wheelers. They only have to drive in and drive out if a pre-filled can is a practical idea from a safety point of view. This method can also be used to ration the supply for these users.
7. Provide an online platform to register vehicles for fuel quota
There is fresh news that the government is to start registering vehicles for fuel quota. Whilst this is a good initiative three wheelers are to be registered through the Police stations, buses and vans at the CTB depot etc. However, it is a must that an online platform is provided for this registration, especially in a situation where consumers can’t find fuel, even to go to any of these places and also due to poor accessibility of these locations. Is there a way to use the registration of persons, or Registrar of Motors Vehicles database extension, or any other quick method to fulfill this requirement?
The writer is a leading automotive market expert and an independent writer. He has experience of over 30 years in the trade handling some of the world’s leading brands and dealing with auto industry regulatory authorities.