New Zealand petrol app fuels the fire of pricing debate

  • News
  • February 16, 2017
  • Elly Strang
New Zealand petrol app fuels the fire of pricing debate

As the government launches an investigation into fuel prices, an app called Gaspy that helps users find the cheapest petrol prices nearby is gaining steam. 

Gaspy launched in the Tauranga region at the end of last year by software company Hwen.

It works via crowdsourcing by people submitting the prices of petrol stations near them.

Other users can then confirm and update those prices, with the more people contributing resulting in more accurate prices.

Co-developer Larry Green said himself and the other co-creators, Mike Newton, Ben Smith, and Tim Turner, wanted to do some pro-bono work as a way of giving back to the community.

“It has no functionality for making income at all and no advertising. What I like about it from a creative point-of-view is if people use it, it will exist and if they don’t, it will cease to exist,” he says.

“It’s entirely dependent on the community – we call them the ‘carmunity’ – to submit, update and share prices. It’s a community driven thing and there’s no financial gain for anyone, so if everyone contributes, everyone benefits.”

Green says petrol price monitoring apps have been running for years abroad, but New Zealand didn’t have anything operating in that category.

In just over four months, the app has since hit 15,000 active users and spread from Tauranga to further afield around New Zealand.

Auckland’s user base, in particular, is now booming, he says, where gas prices skew greatly depending on where you’re located in the city.

“What we discovered when we were doing the back-end research for it is a standard 20 to 30 cent difference over a 5km spread of petrol stations. So by knowing where the cheapest petrol station is, you can shave $30 to $40 off your family’s bill.”

The app’s release is timely, considering the government has announced it’s launching an investigation into how fair petrol and diesel prices are in New Zealand through MBIE.

Energy Minister Judith Collins said fuel margins had more than doubled over the last five years, so the study would be taking a close look at fuel companies’ finances and the discrepancies between different towns’ prices.

The last inquiry into petrol pricing took place in 2008. Officials are expected to report back on the findings in June.

Green says Gaspy has formally offered the Government and the AA assistance with the enquiry, as well as free access to all of the data it’s been collating on fuel prices.

He says if anything, the app has helped loosen the tight hold gas companies have over consumers’ wallets.

“Some of the feedback we get is that petrol prices make people feel powerless,” he says.

“With Gaspy, the sheer ability to choose gives a bit of power back to the consumer to vote with your car and choose not to go somewhere.

“It forces businesses to be competitive because you can’t hope people haven’t seen the other prices.”

Z Energy chief executive Mike Bennetts said that the company welcomed the clarity the study would bring and promised it would participate fully in the investigation.

However, he warned that MBIE’s assessment of profit margins didn’t account for discounting that occurs through loyalty schemes.

Z Energy said its profit per litre hasn’t increased on what it was one year ago, but MBIE figures suggest gross margins increased by at least 2 cents a litre in 2016.

BP and Mobil have also issued statements saying they would co-operate with the MBIE investigation.

The inquiry may help bring New Zealand more into line with Australia’s close examination of petrol companies’ fuel practices.

Across the ditch, petrol prices are being scrutinised and reported on by consumer watchdog group, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

A New South Wales government-run app called FuelCheck is also in operation, helping consumers locate the cheapest fuel prices with the click of a button

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