Petrol stations lose millions as more drive off without paying
An increasing number of motorists are driving away from petrol stations without paying for their fuel, a business group has warned.
But one driver who put €10 worth of diesel in his car ended up paying €750 when he was brought to court.
RGDATA, a group that represents more than 4,000 family business, said that drive-offs from the forecourts were costing petrol stations millions of euro each year.
Drive-offs have been on the increase since the recession began, forcing some garage owners to install pre-pay systems and other costly security measures.
But in one recent case Michael Burns (37), of The Cottage, Feorus West, Kenmare, Co Kerry, was fined €750 for the offence at a sitting of Kenmare District Court where he denied stealing the diesel from Whyte's Centra Filling Station on the Killarney Road, Kenmare, on June 10.
He told the court he had asked his partner to pay for the fuel but she had forgotten to do so. He had returned to the filling station the following day and on several occasions since but had not paid for the fuel because he understood his partner had already done so.
Judge James O'Connor ordered Mr Burns to pay €250 in compensation to the garage owner and a further €500 to the court poor box.
He said if Mr Burns or his partner had "messed up" he had to take responsibility.
"The reality is that he went off out the road without paying and the bottom line is very simple: if you take someone else's property, you must pay for it," the judge said.
Garage owner Robert Whyte said he had had to write off €2,500 in bad debts from drive-offs alone in an 18-month period before he was forced to install a pre-pay system.
"We were one of the last places with a pump attendant, but I had to make him redundant in 2008. Even before that, the problem had been creeping up during the 'unmanned' hours," Mr Whyte told the Irish Independent.
"I'd always try to trace the people myself first, but during the summer there are a lot of rented cars," he said.
"I'd say that in 99.9pc of cases it was a genuine mistake, but when people habitually drive off without paying it becomes a problem. The gardai are helpful but I suppose at the end of the day they're not a debt collection service," he said.
Mr Whyte eventually had to install a pre-pay system that cost €15,000.
He spent an additional €5,000 upgrading his security system.
"People can get frustrated having to pay in advance, but it's something we had to do. It's also saved me about one day a week going through CCTV coverage looking for the registration numbers of cars that had driven off."
RGDATA, meanwhile, said that in addition to the increasing number of drive-offs, business owners had to foot the bill for shoplifting and pilfering by staff members.
"Lottery tickets are among the items that are mainly robbed by staff members, but many members of staff are using loyalty cards to gain bonus points for their own benefit," said Cathy Cawley, spokeswoman for RGDATA.