18 March 2019

New Weston servo takes shape but will it mean cheaper fuel?

| Ian Bushnell
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The North Weston service station development will make a big difference for Weston Creek and Molonglo motorists. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

The long-awaited new service station in North Weston is fast taking shape, as an Assembly committee continues its inquiry into fuel pricing in the ACT.

Like many new fuel outlets, it comes with two fast food stores as well as a shop, and the golden arches of McDonald’s have been raised along with the building in which it and Oporto will be housed.

Fuel tanks and infrastructure have been installed with the hardstand, bowsers and canopy still to come.

The Caltex service station on the corner of Cotter Road and Kirkpatrick Street will provide some welcome competition to Weston Creek’s sole remaining outlet, also a Caltex, in Brierly Street, opposite Cooleman Court.

It will capture the streams of traffic along Cotter Road to and from Weston Creek and the growing suburbs of the Molonglo Valley.

Whether it results in cheaper fuel remains to be seen but the fact that it is on a major Canberra road might help if one believes the view of the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association (ACAPMA) in its submission to the inquiry.

ACAPMA, not surprisingly, does not believe regulation or legislation will bring down fuel prices in Canberra but suggests better support for the establishment of new service stations, particularly discounters and independents, would make a difference, particularly if they are on visible and easily accessible sites where high volumes can mean cheaper prices.

It also points to higher lease and fuel distribution costs in the ACT than interstate.

And it confirms what many have believed – that Canberra’s higher average earnings attract premium prices, although that is just the ‘homogenous’ nature of the market not ‘gouging’ as all sides of politics in the ACT claim.

The fast food section of the development on Cotter Road.

But ACAPMA says convenience often trumps price in this kind of market with most customers continuing to patronise their local service stations despite potential savings elsewhere.

“This finding is consistent with observed behaviours in high wealth markets where customers adopt time-poor cash-rich purchase behaviours – and retail businesses (regardless of the industry they operate in) respond accordingly,’’ it says.

For those not so well off, the price of fuel in the ACT has a big impact.

ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has also made a submission to the inquiry and its Executive Director, Susan Helyar, says transport is the third biggest cost for low-income households in Canberra after housing and food.

“Low-income households include those on income support, people in insecure low wage roles and people who want more hours of work but can’t get them. Compared to the average ACT household, low-income households spend a greater proportion of their income on fuel so that they can take their kids to school, drive to work or job interviews, access health services and get groceries.’’

But if the prices do not differ between North Weston and Cooleman Court at least another option for drivers may cut the queues at peak fill-up times.

Canberra will hopefully be getting another discount outlet, even if it is in Fyshwick, with plans lodged late last year for another discount Metro service station on the site of Capital Car Wash in Whyalla Street.

ACAPMA believes having more of these and independents such as United is the best way to create some ‘tension’ in the market, which would lead to cheaper fuel overall.

It also says the recent announcement by Coles Express and Viva Energy about a change in the operating nature of their alliance is expected to put downward pressure on fuel prices – and the Canberra market is likely to be one of the most significant beneficiaries.

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