Drive-off thefts are a major problem for petrol retailers. In order counteract this problem, the Victorian Police Commissioner has called for the introduction of a prepaid petrol system, however the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) believe this is not the solution.

The AACS says a more consistent national approach that does not jeopardise the ‘convenient’ factor is required, given that convenience is the key competitive advantage these stores have.

AACS executive director Jeff Rogut welcomed the police commitment to tackling petrol drive-offs, which can cost individual sites around the country tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales each year, but warned pre-paid petrol systems alone are unsuitable as a blanket solution.

“Petrol retailers nationally have for years called for a more consistent approach to address this problem, with the key being to implement a meaningful disincentive program to discourage one-off offenders and coerce habitual thieves,” he said.

“However we don’t see pre-paid systems as the only solution as this is at odds with the key offering of stores: to provide customers with a convenient service and experience. Stores shouldn’t have to jeopardise their service offering by inconveniencing their customers, nor should customers who do the right thing be inconvenienced by the few who don’t.

“There are numerous inconveniences associated with mandatory pre-paid options. Customers may have to make multiple trips to the counter if they underestimate the petrol they require or they may have to return to the store to purchase additional items, adding to congestion during busy periods.

“The introduction of fines similar to speeding fines and loss of licence demerit points would be more effective in reducing the incidence of drive-offs and is a more reasonable punishment for opportunistic offenders.”

The AACS has pointed to number plate recognition systems and enhanced partnerships with law enforcement as potential solutions to the problem.

“Central to the effectiveness of preventing drive-offs at a suburban or regional level has been the relationship between operators and the police. In some areas where this relationship is established, instances of petrol drive-offs are reported to a dedicated officer or department and are followed up quickly and effectively,” Rogut said.

“In other areas police response times lag to the point where no action can be taken and in some cases no response is received at all.

“A more consistent national approach based on meaningful disincentives would send a clearer message to drive-off thieves, saving operators’ money, saving police time and resources and having positive safety implications.”