Earlier this year, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling promised to take action with the motorway service stations that are charging around £0.18 per litre extra, going so far as to state that “millions of motorists are being exploited”.

Part of the ‘action’ would be an investigation in to the practice; a three-year investigation. Thankfully, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), along with other experts, have advised against that – stating that the quickest way of helping the motorist is to have price-comparison boards along the motorways.

Go compare

In theory, the idea to have price-comparison boards running the length of the motorway networks could work – Andrea Coscelli from the CMA said that typically, it lowers the price by around a fifth, although Highways England dispute that after trialling it on sections of the M5 earlier this year, but that could be a moot point.

A cynic may say that the affected services on the M5 could have just priced matched whilst the trial was taking place, therefore, no service station was at an advantage, nor disadvantage. Taking that a step further, if these boards were actioned, surely all the service stations need to do is stand firm, and stand together; we could actually be forced to pay a higher rate regardless, and if all motorway services charged the same amount based on geography, then it is the motorist that will ultimately pay.

To make it clear, there is no evidence of the service stations behaving in such a manner, but then they have no need to, at the moment.

Just why?

We’ve reported before on why motorway service stations are more expensive, it isn’t really about fuel storage or transportation cost, it’s purely because it is a captive market .The majority of people prefer to keep to the motorway rather than leave to find fuel and then find their way back to rejoin.

The market is limited – even if you sold fuel considerably cheaper than anywhere else, you’re still only selling to those on the motorway, or to those within close proximity to a junction – people aren’t going to travel 30+ miles to buy fuel because it is 10 pence cheaper.

Of course, as motorists, we feel disgruntled at paying the extra cost, but aside from inconvenience, is there anything that forces us to pay that price? Are the motorway services stations profiteering from our own desire for an easy life? Undoubtedly.

The good news

The good news (or at least nearly all good) is that whilst there’s no clearly defined strategy or process in place to tackle the ‘rip-off’ service stations, and that Chris Grayling et al are under fire for not yet taking action. Grayling and other motoring experts have all agreed that technology is the way forward, and in particular, smartphone apps.

Of course, PetrolPrices.com recognised this some time back; we’re able to give the consumer the control and information to make informed decisions, leading to savings in the region of £220 per year, all with a few swipes, taps and gestures; it’s quick & easy and gives significant benefit.

In fact since PetrolPrices.com launched over ten years ago, our members have saved over £4.1 billion, and there are over 1.8 million users that get regular updates of 98% of the UKs forecourts, and the technology available now allows us to add further benefits such as a fuel route planner which allows you to find the cheapest petrol station on your journey. Yes, smartphone apps are the way forward.

In the meantime

Whilst we wait for the Government to crack down on the exploitative motorway service stations, which incidentally was highlighted by the Minister of Transport in 1967, it’s worth noting that motorway service stations do indeed have costs that we as consumers don’t quite appreciate.

Any developer of motorway service stations not only has to pay for the land, building, construction and general day-to-day overhead, but they also pay for the sliproad and any maintenance costs associated, they also pay for the signage and the upkeep, the car park, landscape – everything contained within the site. No other form of advertising is allowed, and options to increase the range of shops, in terms of size, number and goods that can be sold have been banned, which means service areas that were trying to potentially reduce cost by attracting local consumers for shopping is banned.

Customers of service areas feel aggrieved at paying sky-high prices so try and avoid spending unnecessarily, this creates a cycle whereby the operator of the service area needs to recoup money so increases prices, which of course drives spending down even further, a vicious circle that doesn’t look set to end any time soon.

What do you think is the best way to reduce prices? Should the Government step-in and force price reductions? Should we as motorists be more proactive in finding alternatives? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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