Tuesday, 6 May 2008

How can we keep the petrol companies honest?

Pumped Up
Originally uploaded by lincolnose2
With all the news about petrol prices and their steady upward climb, I wonder if we, the people, can demand clarity from the companies who supply us with much-needed fuel.

I'm not a geek. Not really. I don't know much about programming, but I do know a good idea when I see one.

So here's an idea that presented itself to me: a people-powered website that displays the cheapest petrol prices in the country, or in a particular area. (Okay, it's still a sketchy idea)

There are already some precedents in different industries:

* Houseoftravel.co.nz scrapes the websites of airlines for prices, delivering the lowest price
* Interest.co.nz has a staff that manually check the interest rates from each bank, and their community has begun to help with that manual process.

Is there a way of finding out what's the price of petrol around New Zealand, and what the trends are, so well-prepared drivers can not only check the traffic cams before they set out, but also check where the cheapest petrol is?

Is there a way we could make this mobile? Or at least geotargeted?

What mashups are possible? Google maps seems an obvious choice.

Who would benefit, apart from consumers? Maverick players like Gull - the only petrol company to front on Close Up last night - might be interested, if they're open to transparency.

Industry organisations like the AA might also be interested in being associated with this.

I think there are enough of us with enough skill to make this happen. What do you think?


Simon said...

People know stuff, and news travels fast. This post went out, and almost immediately I get a Twittered reply from Andrew pointing me to Pricewatch.co.nz, a service provided by CardLink. It's delayed by 24 hours, but heck, it's a start!

AndrewB said...

Just adding my bit here - I'm AndrewB. I'd gladly lend a hand in the programming aspect if needed - the problem is getting the data, some of the companies publish their price (rises) in press releases but none seem to explicitly list the pricing.

If that was resolved, a mobile option could definitely be possible - and I guess the public could submit the prices, but accuracy could not be guaranteed :)

Simon said...

Publicly submitted stuff could be a way to go. If there was a way to take pictures on your cellphone, send it to a number that would then translate the pictures into numbers, while automatically knowing where the picture was taken ... that would be interesting.

And probably expensive! :)

RobiNZ said...

It's a bit pointless as petrol is, even at today's prices, cheap.

Looking at the production & supply chain, and scarcity, then consider a huge %'age of the retail price is TAX, not the cost of petrol, where is the problem?

Generally, if you buy it in a bottle retail water is much more expensive!

Simon said...

Hi Rob,

Thanks for commenting. I don't understand why you think this idea would be pointless.

What's the relationship between how much of what we pay for fuel is tax, and how affordable it is?

Also, who cares how petrol compares with bottled water? We can't run our cars on water, and we can't drink petrol?

The issue here is identifying the cheapest prices and helping each other out as consumers - since the petrol companies may or may not be screwing us over.

It's the logical next step for any commodity - a consumer demand for total transparency.