Frustrated fuel consumers and welfare groups are demanding action on the petrol price cycle after retailers spiked the cost of unleaded by up to 50c/L this week.

Led by a small number of outlets owned by the major fuel companies, Wednesday’s lowest prices of around 124c/l spiked to about 175c/L at all bar a few stations across the city.

RAA spokesman Mark Borlace said their data showed the petrol stations had achieved their objective by yesterday afternoon, announcing “the 50c/l jump over two days is now complete’’. “These sort of extremes we are seeing are getting people really angry,’’ he said.

Two welfare groups have called for an inquiry into the problem, which in recent price cycles has seen a record 51c/l gap between the minimum and maximum prices across the city.

Uniting Communities spokesman Mark Henley branded the price spiking “egregious profiteering”.

South Australian Council of Social Services chief executive Ross Womersley backed Mr Henley’s call for an ACCC inquiry and said with wholesale prices at 136.4c/l yesterday, there were three questions about the price spike the regulator needed to answer: “why, why, and why?”

South Australian Road Transport Association executive director Steve Shearer said the size of the price spike pulled off by retailers was “shocking”.

“It makes me and hardworking drivers extremely angry and this sort of crap has to stop,’’ he said. “Why? The production cost hasn’t gone up. It is outrageous.’’

Mr Borlace said spikes of this size had only become a feature of the market in recent months and he could not rule out that retailers would try and spike prices by even more than 50c/l in the future following the “success” of the latest round.

“We must have real-time pricing information with official data provided by the government on the internet so that people can find the cheapest fuel,’’ he said.

“The only thing motorists can do now is top up instead of filling up until the price goes down in a few weeks.”

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman today committed to release to the RAA next month details of a study of real-time pricing in Queensland.

The system wanted by the RAA has been in place for two years in that state, with a recent report by the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland finding more days of cheap petrol prices per quarter with the monitoring in place.

“The Government is unapologetic in doing the right research into real-time fuel pricing,’’ Ms Chapman said.

“We want an effective solution, not an excuse for petrol companies to hike up prices.”

A spokesman for the ACCC, which is charged with monitoring and analysing fuel prices in Australia, said the price spikes “infuriated” motorists.

“While they are not illegal, price cycles to maximise profits really infuriate drivers as they can see no reason for them to exist,’’ the spokesman said. Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association chief executive Mark McKenzie said the ACCC was already aware of the problem in Adelaide.

He said the city was suffering from a “rubber band effect” which was stretching the gap between the lowest and highest process.

The spokesman said motorists should download a free petrol price app and use it to shop around.

“There’s a common perception that all retailers put their prices up or down at exactly the same time, but our research shows this isn’t the case, so if you see prices going up at one retailer, use a free petrol app to find another who hasn’t yet raised their price,’’ he said.

“This is being caused by a drop in demand for petrol of about 3 per cent each year and a large number of new petrol stations causing stronger competition,’’ he said.

“It means the difference between the heavily discounted price and the top price is being stretched.’’

Sheidow Park motorist Cathy Higbee drove to Marion yesterday to buy cheap fuel.

“It is shocking and I drive past two places to get here that were 175c/l and I just refuse to pay that, it is ridiculous,” she said. “Where do you get off charging that when another place can sell it for 124.9c/l?’’

By yesterday afternoon, only three petrol outlets in the northern suburbs were holding out against the co-ordinated attack on motorists.

The increase added up to $30 to the cost of filling up a car with a 60L tank, and caused some motorists to make long drives searching for cheaper alternatives.

Affordable fuel prices have become available only to the lucky and the brave.

The lucky found out in time about an outrageous surge in prices on Wednesday and the brave will try to make their tanks last until prices drop again.

Nearly all competitors followed the spike and sent Adelaide prices to more than 170c/litre. But on Wednesday and again yesterday morning, the lucky few could still find a few locations selling for 124c/litre. 

Yet fuel is an essential service – one with a price that is more unpredictable than the stock market. The problem is few of us are stockbrokers.

Imagine the same rip-off applied to staple foods. Milk one day at the supermarket would be $2, eggs $5, bread $3. Forgot one in the rush? That same afternoon you would be forced to pay $2.80, $7 and $4.20.

If the same price fluctuations happened with any other essential items – if we were forced, on the way to work or school drop-off, to analyse entire markets for our daily bread – there would be protests and riots until action was taken.

The market, incidentally, is selling wholesale fuel to your retailer for 136.4c/litre.

One factor prevents anything being done about the problem. The Federal Government takes in tax of about 40c in every litre of fuel you buy at the bowser. It’s a rort which ensures that little, if any, pressure is exerted on their friends and cash cows – the retailers.

Both major political parties promised to solve the problem at the last state election. They pledged live fuel-price data available on the internet for all. Simple right? You check the price on the website and buy from the cheapest at that time.

Problem is, they haven’t delivered. 

Extracted from Daily Telegraph