Carsharing fuel cards: to have or not to have?


Even carsharing vehicles need to be refuelled. So every carsharing provider gives members access to a fuel card. The logic is that this kills two birds with one stone: fuelling is crowdsourced which saves costs and members can be on the road regardless of the fuel gauge. But is this really true?

Let’s start at the beginning and look at the options for fuel cards: there are traditional fleet fuel cards from Shell or Esso or fleet management credit cards like the ones PHH or ARI provide. A traditional fuel card is limited to certain stations and depending on the setup of a city this may limit your members. From an operational perspective, traditional fuel cards are very limited when it comes to monitoring and controlling. These fuel cards don’t meet the needs of carsharing today anymore, which is why most carsharing operators offer a fleet management credit card. It provides access to any station and there are generally ways to set limits, view real time data and set exception rules.

To secure and track the credit cards in the vehicle, telematic providers have come up with creative cardholder solutions. Some can be hidden in the glovebox, others next to the steering wheel. There are functionalities to inform the member immediately and show the fleet management team remotely if a card is missing.

Yet even with those solutions, every operator I talk to reports of fuel fraud or worse, vandalism because people steal the credit card. The cost of the stolen fuel is generally small but if you have to deal with repairs of vehicles, having a card in the vehicle is costly. Additionally, monitoring fuel transactions and matching them with rentals is time consuming because the two systems are separate. And even if you manage to trace suspicious behaviour to a rental, you have to deal with the member that rented the vehicle.

Carsharing sells members the ultimate convenience by having access to a vehicle without the hassle of owning it. This means you have to design a system to either reward members who refuel or punish the ones that don’t. Free-floating systems generally provide incentives, either free drive time or a credit, but even with those only 4% of the refuelling is actually done by members. Members rather not deal with the hassle of driving to a station or waiting until the tank is full.

So I really ask myself if providing a fuel card is the right solution. There is a fine balance between providing the most convenient customer experience and managing operational time and cost. My current recommendation is to go back to a much simpler system. Instead of providing cards that need hardware, software and monitoring solutions, have members fuel up with their own cards and reimburse them through the system. Not with minutes but with real cash!

I’d love to hear what your solution is to refuelling? Comment, tweet or email me with your ideas.

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