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Petrol price protest urges UK to "dump the pump"

Date: 01-Aug-00
Country: UK
Author: John O'Callaghan

Britain is a car culture and drivers certainly pay for the pleasure - or necessity - of getting around. Prices at the pump are the highest in Europe, with tax and duties swallowing up 75 pence of every pound spent on premium unleaded gasoline.

The campaign starting on August 1 and due to carry on every Yesterday afterwards seeks to put pressure on the Labour government via 24-hour boycotts on the front end of the petrol business.

"A lot of anti-government sentiment has been expressed and people realise this is something that motorists can get behind," coordinator Garry Russell told London's Evening Standard newspaper yesterday.

Organisers do not expect motorists to buy less petrol - drivers can fill up on any other day - but they want empty filling stations to send a powerful signal.

The goal is for the government to cut petrol taxes or to apply the levies directly to upgrading roads and Britain's creaking public transport networks.

Oil companies are not expected to suffer, leaving retailers - most independently owned - to bear the brunt of daily losses Russell estimates at five million pounds ($7.5 million).

A FULL TANK MEANS AN EMPTY WALLET

British petrol prices shot up more than 40 percent between January 1999 and June 2000.

Recent falls in wholesale markets and a war by supermarket outlets have cut the cost, but prices above 80 pence per litre - $1.20 per litre or $4.50 per U.S. gallon - are not uncommon.

In the United States, drivers pay less than $2 a gallon.

"It is for the public to make their own decisions," Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said. "But we do recognise there are problems in some parts of the country."

Of the 18-pence increase for a litre of petrol over the last 16 months, only two pence was due to duty hikes, he said.

He said that the March budget included the lowest rise in petrol duty for 11 years and the government had abandoned its fuel escalator, which had committed it to pump up prices by a certain amount above the rate of inflation every year.

But the campaign's message seems to be getting through, a survey of 600 drivers for the Evening Standard showed. Of the 61 percent of people who had heard of the protest, 57 percent said they would back it on Tuesday by staying away from the pumps.

Organisers have mounted a slick campaign complete with a website at boycott-the-pumps.com. That links to another site - petrolbusters.com - which allows consumers to compare prices at service stations in their local area.

CAMPAIGN GETS MIXED REACTION

British truckers incensed at the duty levels on diesel have backed the campaign but cannot "dump the pump" in quite the same way as the average motorist. The Daily Mail is also in on the petrol protest under the banner "End This Highway Robbery".

But the environmental group Friends of the Earth called the campaign a "cynical stunt by the most backward bits of the road lobby, prodded by populist papers and opportunist Tory politicians". Fuel tax was an essential tool to fight environmental damage, it said, noting government figures showing the cost of driving a car had not changed in real terms in 25 years while train fares had risen by 53 percent and bus fares by 87 percent.

Analysts say Britons will continue to drive their cars no matter what the cost because of a lack of reliable alternatives.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said in mid-July that the government would invest 180 billion pounds ($270 billion) in Britain's transport network over the next decade to try to get people out of their cars and onto trains and buses.

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Reuters
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