Fuel prices under close scrutiny

The Austrian Competition Authority (BWB) has asked the country’s leading oil companies and petrol station managers to comment on the current price developments.

The BWB announced yesterday (Weds) it had decided to take a closer look at the recent pricing occurrences due to an increasing number of complaints by citizens and car clubs. The authority is expected to await the reply of the enterprises before deciding about a possible examination. If found guilty by a cartel court, the firms could face fines of hundreds of thousands of Euros.

Motorists’ associations claim that car petrol has never been as expensive as last month while experts say that prices were higher in the 1970s and 1980s. They made aware of inflation effects. One litre of diesel fuel cost 1.45 Euros on average in Austria at the beginning of this week, according to car clubs. The price for one litre of Eurosuper ranged around 1.51 Euros.

Arbö, ÖAMTC and other drivers’ clubs tried to prove that service stations charged inappropriately high prices ahead of and during public holidays like Easter but to no avail. Statistics show nevertheless that the price for car fuel is currently a few percentage points higher than it was some weeks before the Easter break.

The steadily rising fuel prices could cause a change of many Austrians’ attitude towards individual traffic. Public transport agencies announced climbing tickets sales while more and more people are tipped to start cycling instead of using their cars to get to the office and the shops. At the same time, analysis shows that extraordinarily powerful cars remain popular.

More than 356,100 new vehicles were bought in Austria last year, up by more than eight per cent compared to 2010. This was a new annual record, according to Statistik Austria. The agency said that 4.51 million cars were currently in use in the country. The most vehicles per inhabitants are registered in the province of Burgenland (616 per 1,000 residents), a study by the Austrian Traffic Club (VCÖ) shows. The 610 cars per 1,000 residents help Lower Austria to second place among Austria’s nine provinces.

Around 50 per cent of the price drivers pay at petrol stations for fuel are for taxes. Austria’s mineral oil product taxation rose as part of various annual budget programmes of the different government coalitions in the past years. International studies show that people in all but one of Austria’s seven neighbouring countries must fork out more for car petrol. Slovenia is the only exception at the moment.

BWB co-chief Stefan Keznickl told the Salzburger Nachrichten today that his authority would consider a complaint by the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). The opposition party appealed to the BWB to find out whether Austria’s leading providers of fuel were abusing their market-leading positions. The BZÖ alleged that the firms might charge excessive prices to low-cost petrol stations to keep the general price level up.

There are almost 2,600 petrol stations in Austria at the moment. A directive issued by People’s Party’s (ÖVP) Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner last year means that they must not jack up fuel prices more often than once a day. However, petrol station managers are allowed to lower their prices as often as they want. Mitterlehner hoped to create more transparency and help drivers to compare petrol prices.