A new, prepaid fuel-card system for Department of Defense identification card holders that would replace paper coupons will be tested starting Monday in Mainz-Kastel, Germany.

The test will last about six weeks and is designed to help work out bugs in the new fuel-buying system, which is scheduled to be rolled out next year by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

The system would allow eligible customers to buy fuel at Esso stations in Germany with a process similar to using a debit card.

The computerized process would also limit the amount of fuel to be purchased based on current monthly rations.

The fuel cards are scheduled to be issued in phases in Germany from July to November 2008.

But the logistics of the new system, which were agreed upon in June 2006, first need to be coordinated between AAFES, Esso, the U.S. military and the German government.

“The main reason the process would take a long time is that we want to make sure everything is right the first time,” said Jack Gillund, a spokesman with Installation Management Command-Europe in Heidelberg, which is coordinating the development of the new system.

“We want to find the glitches and solve the glitches between the different organizations’ computer systems so when people use this card, they don’t experience difficulties.”

About 100 customers from the AAFES support staff will participate in the test program using both private and government-owned vehicles.

The Esso station at the U.S. installation at Mainz-Kastel, as well as several stations nearby in the community, will be used for the test.

Customers would pump fuel into their vehicle, and then bring their prepaid fuel card and vehicle registration to the cashier. The cashier would swipe the card and have the customer enter his personal identification number.

The cashier would then produce a receipt showing the customer’s remaining money balance as well as how many liters remain on his monthly fuel ration. Customers would be able to go online to track their fuel use and add money to their prepaid fuel card, Gillund said.

“It will be much easier for (customers) to add money to their card than it is now to buy gas coupons,” he said. “And people won’t be experiencing long lines at AAFES just because one or two people are buying their fuel coupons for the month.”

When the new system is deemed ready, AAFES will send two teams to help activate fuel cards at AAFES’ sites across Germany.

The rollout would begin at smaller communities and continue around Army and Air Force installations, Gillund said. The largest markets would begin receiving fuel cards last, after the rollout teams gain experience introducing the fuel cards in smaller markets.

Aral gas stations located alongside highways currently accept paper fuel coupons. Gillund said he did not know if Aral or any other fuel suppliers would take part in the AAFES’ fuel-card system.

Gas prices in Europe dip

Unleaded and diesel gas sold at AAFES pumps will decrease slightly starting Saturday.

In Germany, regular unleaded drops 1.8 cents to $2.937 per gallon. Midgrade drops 1.6 cents in Germany and the U.K. to $3.054 and $2.992 per gallon, respectively. In the Netherlands, midgrade drops 1.5 cents to $3.378 per gallon.

Diesel prices drop by 1.3 cents in Germany and the U.K. to $3.202 and $3.140 per gallon, respectively. In the Netherlands, diesel drops 3.7 cents to $3.424 per gallon. A gallon of premium fuel drops 1.6 cents in all three countries to $3.164 in Germany, $3.102 in the U.K. and $3.658 in the Netherlands.

— Stars and Stripes

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