Motorway service stations to be shamed into cutting fuel prices

Government says cost per litre should be displayed on road signs to discourage stations from fleecing drivers

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The Independent Online

Motorway service stations could soon be shamed into lowering their petrol prices after criticism that they are fleecing drivers by charging 10p a litre more than other garages.

The inflated cost of motorway petrol is among the most common complaints of Britain’s drivers. At the moment, most motorists only discover they are having to pay over the odds once they have pulled off the motorway. Now the Government may force service stations to advertise their prices well before drivers reach the site.

According to Experian Catalist, the average price on motorway service stations is 142.49p for unleaded and 147.61p for diesel. At hypermarkets, the average cost is 131.43p for unleaded and 136.20 for diesel. The overall average UK fuel price is 133.22p a litre for unleaded and 138.05p for diesel. Yesterday, at the Clacket Lane service station on the M25 in Surrey, unleaded cost 145.9p a litre and diesel 150.9p.

One proposal is to include details of prices on road signs giving the distance to the nearest service stations, which happens in France. Signs on the hard shoulder could also display the prices at the next few motorway stops, enabling motorists to compare prices. The Government’s aim is to drive down by prices by forcing petrol retailers to be more competitive.

David Cameron has asked the Downing Street Policy Unit to draw up firm proposals. It will be seen as a response to Labour’s criticism that the Government is insensitive to cost of living issues affecting millions of people. Last night the RAC welcomed Mr Cameron’s proposal. Pete Williams, a spokesman, said: “Motorway drivers have long been the victims of some pretty indefensible pricing at the pumps with many service stations charging on average 10p extra per litre above the ‘high-street’ or supermarket forecourt price.

“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.

“This is welcome news for motorists and commercial drivers but we still need motorway services to be transparent and fair on all their prices. They 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.”

A Downing Street source said: “The cost of living is the number one issue for people up and down the country. There is nothing more frustrating than pulling off the motorway to find a sky-high petrol or diesel price. Giving people more information while they are still on the motorway will mean a greater choice about where they fill up, and should help drive down prices.

"The Policy Unit will look more generally at how transparency can drive down prices. We have acted already on energy prices, to ensure people get put on the lowest tariff, and we will look at other areas to see what more we can do.”

A report by the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) into fuel prices in January was highly critical of the cost of motorway petrol. It concluded that service station prices were inflated by 7.5p per litre for unleaded and 8p for diesel and suggested the lack of transparency of pricing was a factor.  It said: “Fuel is often significantly more expensive at motorway service stations. The OFT is concerned that drivers are not able to view prices until they have pulled into the motorway service station.”