Are you one of those people who watches how your dollars and cents add up at the gas pumps in Barbados? It seems as though gas does not last as long as it used to. Filling up one’s gas tank is now a tactical exercise that requires advanced monitoring and miles and kilometers rationing. How many times have you gone to the gas station for a fill up and then you’re back for another in the blink of eye?
Things essentially got worse for consumer pockets when the road tax was abolished and the new fuel tax implemented on 01 July 2018. Initially, some Barbadians, including the Barbados Road Safety Association, were in agreement with this move. Many commentators remarked that the old road tax was a “wasted tax” given the poor state of our transportation infrastructure.
A post by Caribbean Signal, provides a pretty detailed look at retail fuel prices for the period January 2015 to November 2018. It reveals that there has been a steady increase in the the price of gasoline and diesel since 2016. And now, on top of this, the new fuel tax has caused prices to take a further hike upwards. Businesses and service providers have not and will not absorb these increases and thus have already passed them on to customers. After the dust has settled, the pain of the fuel tax is now being felt in all areas (especially in the pocket) and many are dreaming of the simpler days of the old road tax.
Pining After the Old Barbados Road Tax
The old Barbados road tax was not that bad after all. In fact, it was one of the more “affordable” taxes in the country, simply because it was fixed. For smaller private vehicles, the tax worked out to a measly $34 per month or $400 per year. This means that you could drive from St. Lucy to Christ Church as many times as you liked during the year without penalty or fear of having to pay extra for mileage used. This was extremely beneficial for people who made long and frequent commutes through the length and breadth of the island.
Under the old road tax structure, there were some revenue leakages due to some drivers purposely neglecting to pay the tax. This was a large loophole that often had negative repercussions for the Government of Barbados, law abiding citizens and Barbados’ motor vehicle insurance industry. Additionally, some exemptions from the tax were also allowed. Temporary visitors, vehicles used for agricultural purposes and vehicles owned by the Crown or those vehicles used by members of the diplomatic or consular communities, and regional or international organisations, were exempt from paying this tax.
Breaking Down The New Fuel Tax
Due to the structure of the new fuel tax, consumers could expect to pay much more than the old road tax for their fuel. According to Ernst & Young’s 2018 budget commentary, the old road tax structure brought in approximately $65 million per year. The new fuel tax is estimated to bring in upwards of $80 million per year, which suggests that consumers would be the sole generators of the at least $25 million increase in revenue. This tax also ultimately means that everyone in Barbados who uses any type of fuel (especially gas or diesel) to operate a vehicle or machinery, will contribute to the tax.
The detailed assessment by Ernst & Young, further analyzes the impact of the tax on the Barbadian consumer via an example that uses a popular small vehicle. Based on the information provided, it was calculated that the average annual gas bill for the vehicle in question would increase by over $200. Using an unconfirmed report from 2008 that stated there were 126,361 registered vehicles on the road, one can see how the funds would add up to provide the Government’s desired income.
Whilst this will no doubt provide additional revenue for the Government of Barbados, it means that consumers will have a bigger fuel tax bill. This means that purchasing fuel at the gas pumps in Barbados, will be a more stringent cost conscious and dollar wise effort. People will be more vigilant about what goes on at the gas pump, how much they are spending in fuel and how long a tank of gas or diesel will last. There have already been instances where Barbadian consumers have questioned some of the practices at gas stations. Some of the most important questions being asked relate to how long gas lasts, the quality of the product and whether or not we are indeed getting what we paid for.
Are Gas Pumps in Barbados Honest?
If you are concerned about how often you are visiting the gas station, you are not alone. Recent comments by Barbadians reveal that there is some annoyance with how long gas lasts in vehicles and questions about the quality of the gas. And, there are also many stories on social media about not-so-good experiences at the gas pumps in Barbados. The Energy Division is responsible for regulating the energy sector, which includes monitoring and setting petroleum price movements and overseeing gas stations and gas pumps in Barbados. However, they have been silent on the matter, even though it has been receiving increased scrutiny by Barbadians.
In countries like the United States of America, there are inspectors who are responsible for checking gas stations and their fuel pumps to ensure that customers receive what they pay for. According to an article by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), in Georgia, the Department of Agriculture’s Division of Weights & Measures inspects each gas pump at all gas stations in the state at least once every eighteen months. In addition, the department tests the gasoline to see if it contains water and to see if its octane levels remain the same.
For the gasoline test, the inspector pulls 5 gallons from the pump. The test uses the 1,155 cubic inches in 5 gallons as a benchmark. If the 5 gallons pulled are more than 6 cubic inches higher or lower than 1,155 cubic inches, the gas station gets cited for a violation. If the 5 gallons pulled are more than 13 cubic inches higher or lower than the 1,155 cubic inches, the station is also cited for a violation and the pump is locked by the department until the problem is fixed.
Additional data provided by the AJC article provides more food for thought and raises more questions about whether or not the gas stations in Barbados are honest. In Georgia alone, since 2010, there have been 320,000 pump inspections,of which 22,681 resulted in violations. One of the reasons for the violation was that the pump did not dispense enough gas, which means that the customer paid for x gallons but received less than x gallons. Other reasons are that the pump dispensed too much gas and the pump was locked. In one specific case, one of the violations was as a result of an underground storage tank containing 14% water!
Based on some of the complaints that have been posted to various sites across Barbados, customers are falling victim to either pump jumping or meter creep. Pump jumping occurs when the gas pump meter starts running before gas enters the vehicle. Meter creep is when the gas meter continues to run even though the pump has stopped. In both cases, customers find themselves paying for gas that they never received. Whilst there is no evidence that gas stations in Barbados are deliberately engaging in these practices, the fact that there are several consumer complaints about these types of occurrences, strengthens the call for a more hands on regulatory approach as well as an investigation-oriented customer complaints bureau.
Saving Money on Gas and Diesel
Because there is no independent Barbadian consumer watch dog body that keeps fuel businesses and service providers on their toes, you, as a vigilant consumer, are tasked with the responsibility of finding ways to make your fuel last as long as possible. Although you do not have the authority to check the pumps at each gas station in Barbados, there are some things that are within your control. Resolving to take a closer look at how much you spend on gas and diesel is the first step to saving money. Automobile experts have conceptualised a number of fuel saving tips that could help you with your money saving goals.
1. Watch your speeds – It’s a well known fact that the faster and harder you drive, the more fuel you burn. Take it easy on the roads, save your life and preserve your gas.
2. Check the air filter – A clogged air filter blocks air flow which can reduce your car’s optimal performance. If your filter is dirty, change it or use one that can be cleaned.
3. Inspect tyres – Tyres that are too hard or soft can impact how much fuel a vehicle consumes. To rectify, you should have the pressure and alignment of each tyre checked.
4. Check the oil – Dirty oil can cause your vehicle to work harder and thus burn more fuel. Check and change the oil regularly to improve your gas mileage.
5. Plan your routes – Sometimes using a less busy back road can save you from sitting in traffic and burning fuel. Planning your routes ahead of time could be more fuel efficient.
To really save money, you should always keep your car in good working condition. Many of the tips highlighted above can be easily completed during a vehicle’s annual maintenance. Although it may seem as another financial burden in the short-term, it can save you money in the medium to long term. Remember, each time you top up with fuel, you are paying an additional 40 cents per litre for both petrol and diesel.