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Tech developers want to help consumers find cheap petrol -

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MARK COLVIN: Dozens of tech gurus are working towards mobile phone apps to help motorists find cheap fuel.

It'll become possible when formerly-private pricing data becomes public in May.

Many believe that changes to the way petrol prices are reported will be a win for motorists and a big opportunity for software developers.

Consumer affairs reporter Amy Bainbridge.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: It was once the case that petrol companies sent employees driving around to check their competitors' prices on billboards at rival service stations.

The system has rapidly evolved - major retailers now pay one company to electronically collate and publish national pricing data every 15 to 30 minutes.

That company, Informed Sources, has BP, Caltex, Woolworths and 7-Eleven as its private subscribers.

In December, in the face of accusations about anti-competitive agreements, those companies reached a deal with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to make its pricing data public for motorists from the 20th of May this year.

Alan Cadd is the managing director of Informed Sources.

ALAN CADD: The good news about the results of the undertakings is that data will now flow through every 15 minutes, and it will also be as much data as we have got from the four oil companies involved.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: Mr Cadd says his company has been inundated with requests from software developers to access the pricing data so it can be relayed to consumers through a mobile app or website.

It means motorists could go online to look at the cheapest bowser price in their area.

ALAN CADD: I almost fear this interview going to air because even without us coming off the blocks, and making these statements available, we've already had 30 people register interest in getting hold of this data.

If we look at what happened in Germany; in Germany, 120 apps in this space. So we're expecting there to be everything from large corporates, large media, right the way through to public interest groups, motoring organisations, obviously NRMA, RACV will be there, RACQ as well.

And, right the way down maybe to the 17-year-old app developer from next door who's the next Mark Zuckerberg in the making.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: The NRMA already provides a form of price monitoring on its website, but it says this development in price transparency is a "game changer", because petrol prices will be provided in real time and it's a huge win for motorists.

Petrol retailers have again weathered heavy criticism this week with the ACCC's latest quarterly report on petrol prices finding retail margins are still too generous.

Alan Cadd says it's difficult to see if more information in the hands of motorists will ultimately bring down petrol prices.

ALAN CADD: Well, that's a curly one. Look, right here today, a third of the people who are listening to this are switching off because they just don't get petrol prices and they couldn't be bothered and they'll fill up whenever.
But for another third of the population this is real bread and butter and you know, if you're doing it tough, a single parent trying to raise kids and you're trying to find 30 bucks, you want to make sure that 30 bucks fills the tank, goes as far as it can.

So those guys are going to be incentivised and I think they're going to be the target of these app developers to try and really win their hearts. I think it's going to make a difference to those individuals - whether it will act as a downward pressure on the price of petrol long term, we have to wait and see.

You know, there’s still the big kickers in that area are what's the price of crude, what's the AU dollar-US dollar exchange rate, but will this actually act as a downward pressure? I believe so.

AMY BAINBRIDGE: The ACCC criticised retailers this week, you know, saying that crude oil prices have gone down significantly and margins aren't going down, retail margins, in fact they're going up. What would be your response to that? Is that a fair criticism?

ALAN CADD: I don't know if it's a fair criticism or not, but there are more issues at stake than just the price of crude and the AU dollar-US dollar exchange rate.

You know if you look in New South Wales alone, you've got the price board initiative, you've got the vapour recovery too. These are all costs that resellers have to build into their margins.

MARK COLVIN: Alan Cadd from Informed Sources speaking to consumer affairs reporter Amy Bainbridge.