Fleet News

Guest opinion: LPG can help save rural communities

BILLY Laing, managing director of Gleaner Oils, argues that LPG could be the lifeblood of rural communities such as those in the Scottish Highlands.

'Come the Budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown can continue to encourage the growth of the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) market by maintaining the duty level that allows the fuel to sell at an advantageously lower price than petrol or diesel.

We need this incentive for the long term to stimulate a market that is still lagging well behind the rest of Europe. Some countries have up to 10 times more LPG vehicles per capita than we do.

Yet nowhere in Europe can the benefits of LPG be felt more keenly than in the UK. Still, though, despite the most obvious cash benefits, there is a reluctance to adopt the fuel for the future.

We run a fleet of nearly 30 LPG-fuelled vehicles and the figures speak for themselves. Compare journeys from Elgin to Birmingham return and Elgin to Bedfordshire return, a total of 2,268 miles. In a conventional, petrol-fuelled car, costs for these journeys would typically run at £226.53, compared with £133.39 in our LPG-fuelled equivalent, a saving of £92.99.

Why then, are the British so slow to adopt lpg as the potential answer to many economic and social ills? Fleet managers up and down the country wring their hands at continental competition, where operators can fuel vehicles for less and undercut British operators.

However, despite ever-improving technology, which allows even commercial diesels to run a price-efficient blend of LPG and traditional fuel, only a brave few have investigated arming their drivers with bi-fuelled units to take into continental battle.

The fuel duty protests of 2000 vividly demonstrated the dismay felt nationally at the level of taxation on fuel. But the chancellor could hardly do more to encourage lpg adoption, with duty at a tenth of the level of petrol or diesel.

However, motorists still queue at the forecourts, dreading the day when their litre of fuel reaches £1. They look with mild curiosity at the lpg pioneers, filling their entirely normal vehicles for about half the cost and then driving away, in a cloud of … well, water vapour mainly, since lpg is considerably cleaner than either petrol or diesel.

Perhaps it's a national reluctance to change that keeps us hidebound to the tradition of petrol and diesel.

Gleaner Oil and Gas operates in the north east of Scotland, Western Isles and in the Highlands, serving Scotland's island communities via 23 ferry routes. With journeys generally longer and fuel distribution costs higher, it is in these remote areas that the greatest social impact of LPG will be felt. If travel is made more economically viable, then surely living there becomes more attractive and viable too.

Just over three years ago, we opened our first LPG pump at Skiach Services, north of Inverness.

A network of planned sites was announced to make this environmentally friendly and attractively-priced product available in the north of Scotland, Western Isles and Highlands and Islands, and bring, wherever possible, a retail outlet to our small rural communities. It is only with the collaboration of many Government and private enterprises that our plans remain on course.

However, despite the excellent commercial success of the lpg programme, the UK is still a long way short of the target of 250,000 lpg vehicles by the end of 2005. In the light of European statistics, that target is very modest.

This is not an exercise in social responsibility. There's a genuine commercial opportunity. Every single filling point thus far installed has greatly exceeded targets and expectations.

Our commercial sights are set very high for LPG. The increased turnover has not just improved our bottom line, it has contributed towards sustaining rural businesses, helping to keep open and viable local filling stations from Wick to Dunoon.

Environmental and financial benefits aside, LPG means jobs that can make the difference between staying or leaving a community. LPG can play a part in sustaining the British way of life, and that's the real value of adopting this fuel.

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