POLITICS

Nova Scotia wants to track what's going into drivers' gas tanks

12/18/2014 09:17 EST | Updated 02/17/2015 05:59 EST
HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's Liberal government is reconsidering its opposition to gasoline price regulation, Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday as the province announced plans to track what's going into gas tanks.

The Liberals have opposed regulation since the system was introduced in 2006 by the Progressive Conservatives as a way of stabilizing price fluctuations and to help save struggling rural retailers.

But McNeil said the market has changed since then and the government doesn't want to undermine a business model that has already dealt with some of the issues in rural communities.

"We're not going to go out and attempt to solve a problem that consumers are telling us they don't have anymore," he said.

"We haven't moved to deregulate and we will assess it to make sure that there is no unintended consequences should we go in that direction."

To help determine how regulation is working, the government is introducing a new $1.25 million electronic system that will track gas purchases and collect information on fuel types and volumes that are sold.

The tracking system will take 18 to 24 months to install at all retail stations after a supplier is found next year. It will also track pump prices, the revenue that is being collected and whether drivers are opting for self or full service at the pumps.

The tracking system is being brought in after the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board recommended that better data collection was needed in order for the pricing system to work more effectively.

The government says the system will be funded through existing industry fees and will not affect gas prices.

The tracking was welcomed by Graham Conrad, executive director of the Retail Gasoline Dealers Association of Nova Scotia, which represents 220 retailers.

Conrad said it will help determine the effect of recent market changes that are seeing the disappearance of traditional gas stations with pumps and service bays.

"The new generation of service stations is a convenience store, coffee shops, car washes and all that sort of stuff," he said. "In order to get a handle on how all that is evolving, that's what the information (system) is designed to do."

Conrad said retailers believe regulation has worked because it has helped to stabilize prices for consumers while helping to stave off the complete disappearance of rural gas stations.

There are currently 390 retailers in the province, down from 560 in 2008, he said.