Fuelling anger and anxiety
The gasoline crisis has left the driving public apprehensive, as Sherine Nasr
It is the summer of agony for consumers and government alike. No sooner had the bread crisis been relieved when shortages in the car fuel octane 80 prevailed in most governorates, causing frenzy among car drivers who rely on this type of economical fuel. Octane 80 is mostly used in older model taxi cars, police vehicles and public- owned buses. It is only sold at pumping stations affiliated to the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), such as Co-op and Misr Petroleum, in addition to some selected Mobil stations.
Since the beginning of July, it has become a normal occurrence to find chronic congestion at fuelling stations pumping octane 80 gasoline. Taxi cars stand in three or four parallel lines in front of gas station for hours before reaching the pump. The snail-pace queues disturbed traffic flow in major downtown squares, aggravating drivers, passengers and even traffic police who could only attempt self-restraint during the long hours.
But many times after waiting to reach the pump, taxi drivers, especially, lose their temper when the fuel runs out before they can fill up. In fact, there have been many reports of brawls at gas stations when infuriated drivers assault station staff. A major fuelling station in the district of Shubra was levelled during one fight last week, and crowds engaged in a bladed battle at another this week.
Due to the gravity of the situation and security reasons, a decision was taken to stop delivering octane 80 to four major fuelling stations in strategic areas in Heliopolis, on the Nile Corniche, and in front of the People's Assembly building downtown. "The situation is very bad, and getting worse," beseeched the owner of a major fuelling station selling octane 80, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are facing tremendous pressure by consumers." He said that despite efforts by traffic police, little can be done to control the situation.
Although his outlet receives 26,000 litres of octane 80 gasoline daily -- a considerably large amount compared to other stations -- it is consumed entirely in almost no time. "I have been repeatedly asked by the helpless traffic police to close the station for a while, to enable them to better manage traffic jams surrounding the station," he revealed. "In the meantime, drivers wanting to fill up on the more expensive octane 90 or 92 are discouraged by the scene, causing sales to drop significantly."
So far, EGPC -- which controls the market -- is mum about the fuel crisis, which has fuelled anxiety about a possible hike in the price of octane 80. Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to print, there were no clear answers to simple and basic questions, such as how the situation is being handled; how much octane 80 is available on the market; how much consumption has increased; or whether a price increase is imminent.
Experts believe that the situation is the normal outcome of the government's decision in May to increase the cost of octane 90 and 92 gasoline from LE1.30 and LE1.40 to LE1.75 and LE1.85, respectively, while maintaining the same price of octane 80 at LE0.90. Although the intention was to lift fuel subsidies for the well-to-do while keeping it in tact for the less privileged, the decision seems to have backfired and caused much social unrest. A considerable number of drivers switched to using octane 80, but the volume of the heavily subsidised gasoline pumped to the market has remained the same.
The gas station owner is astonished to see the drivers of the latest model vehicles fuelling up on octane 80 gasoline, instead of the better quality octane 90 and 92. Other vehicle owners resort to another trick, mixing octane 80 and 90 to take advantage of the difference in price. "The situation became more aggravated this month when the academic year ended, and there is more traffic on the roads," explained the source.
The gas station owner believes the solution is to increase the volume of octane 80 on the market and better distribute it among stations, since limiting the number of outlets dispensing this type of fuel has aggravated the problem. "Gasoline 80 should be sold in stations outside the city, on the Ring Road for example, so that it does not interfere with city traffic," he suggested.
Would EGPC consider this solution, or any other?