x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The air bag: Filling up your car in the UAE isn’t always a gas

Fraser M Martin muses the time wasted while filling up a car at petrol stations in Dubai.

Cars queue at an Adnoc petrol station in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National
Cars queue at an Adnoc petrol station in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National

I have spent an inordinate amount of time in petrol stations this week, between filling my own cars and those that I have been using for events. I estimate, therefore, that in one typically busy week, I have to spend about 90 minutes in forecourts – but only about a third of that time actually using the pumps.

So the one hour per week that I waste in Dubai petrol stations adds up to about 52 hours per year, or just shy of seven working days, spent in idle contemplation of my navel or the unmitigated selfishness of people who think it is OK to block the pumps while they leisurely stroll off to get a coffee.

But the laziness of customers is not the main gripe here – rather it’s the seeming unwillingness of certain companies to look at the efficiency of operating a forecourt. There have been times this week when there have been more “attendants” trying to sell me phone cards, raffle tickets, tissue boxes, food and drink, dubious engine additives and thoroughly disgusting perfumes than there have been staff actually attending to customers who just want to refuel and be on their way.

Add to that the refusal to fill any car that arrives and does not present the “correct” flank to the pump and, with the exception of Land Rovers, Jaguars, BMWs, some Nissans and a few Kias, plus the odd classic American vehicle with the tank flap centrally hidden behind the number plate, you could very well find yourself queuing out into a traffic-blocking and dangerous position while you wait for the driver’s left side to be accessible to pumps, while the rest remain idle.

Compound the whole scenario by having each and every attendant having to separately swipe a security card before the nozzle even enters the tank, and you can begin to understand – should you not have experienced this first-hand – how stupidly wasteful of time the business of refuelling a car can become.

Abu Dhabi’s Adnoc seems to take a much more efficient and customer-friendly view of things.

On a recent car-launch event in Fujairah – a location, it seems, now solely supplied by Adnoc – my team was able to refuel 10 cars in less than 20 minutes with only three drivers. We drove the first three cars to the station, pulled up either side of the pumps, refuelled and went back for the next three. The attendant knew what he was doing: he got on with the job without having to try to sell us something we clearly neither wanted nor had time to discuss, and was able to handle more than one car at a time. He directed us to available bays, irrespective of which side the tank flap was on, and provided clean, efficient, prompt and professional handling of a simple task in a timely manner.

I well understand that the retailing of fuel supplies in the Emirates is not a profitable business, nor has it been for as long as I can remember, but in the pursuit of turning a site to profitability through marketing of other services – laudable and convenient though many of them are – it seems to me that the core business of keeping people on the move has been somehow forgotten in certain quarters.

A free market is always a good thing but it’s important to remember that even if you hold a near monopoly, people will still vote with their feet – or in the case of fuel supplies, with their wheels.

The key players in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have dealt with the issue of cigarette smoking on forecourts, thank goodness, so it should not be too difficult to come up with a common business practice that will serve them – and more imporwtantly, their customers – properly and well.


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