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Motor Mouth articles 2012

Petrol attendants make a comeback

FORECOURT attendants are to be reintroduced at British petrol stations this summer in a welcome excursion ‘back to the future’.

Decades after being phased out and replaced with automatic self-service pumps, an army of attendants is being recruited by fuel giants Shell.

The company will initially employ people at 300 of its sites this summer and if all goes well, that number will be doubled within a year.

Promising that the service will be free, Shell hope the move will save motorists time, be more convenient and boost customer loyalty.

Drivers can tell the attendant how much fuel they want and then nip into the forecourt shop to buy their Mars bars, bottles of water, newspapers and pasties. Their petrol bill will also be delivered to the kiosk.

The new initiative will also cut queues at filling stations, says Melanie Lane, Shell’s retail general manager.

“Today’s motorists spend between £50 and £100 to fill up their vehicles and are increasingly time-poor, so they’d much rather be somewhere else than standing on a forecourt pumping petrol.”

Signs at the filling station entrance will indicate the presence of attendants. Shell expects them to be on hand seven days a week during daytime.

An AA spokesman welcomed the return of the ‘fill it up’ brigade. “In today’s world of anonymous forecourts, putting someone there to help must be a welcome development. It may also make solo women drivers feel safer having a human presence among the pumps.”

In the olden days, of course, petrol stations sold petrol and oil, and sometimes you could buy a packet of smokes and a road map, but there was never a hypermarket and cafeteria attached.

And although it is often useful to be able to buy a few extras when you pop in for petrol, it has made transactions far slower as drivers wander off looking for lunch and entertainment while their cars block the traffic flow.

No doubt many motorists will seek out garages that employ attendants so business should be boosted enough to more than pay their doubtless modest wages. Other fuel companies may be forced to follow suit.

In Italy, where I drive frequently, most petrol stations are manned during normal hours, and some pumps are marked self-service so drivers have a choice. Attendants will usually wash your windscreen while the tank is being filled.

I’m all in favour of Shell’s brave new venture. We should welcome anything that creates new jobs, makes life smoother for harassed drivers, helps the hapless Mrs Mouth replace the petrol cap properly and improves forecourt security.

Just as long as the fuel companies don’t use it as an opportunity to sneak another penny or few on petrol prices.

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