Deal reached in Germany to replace gas coupon system with prepaid cards
By CHARLIE COON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 17, 2008
STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. military reached an agreement with Germany and the Esso company under which Defense Department personnel and dependents would pay for fuel in Germany using a prepaid card, eliminating the current fuel-coupon system.
Starting June 1, servicemembers and other DOD personnel who newly register a vehicle in Germany would be issued a fuel card that they would then “charge up” much like a prepaid phone card, and then use it to buy fuel.
In July, drivers who already have vehicles registered in Germany would begin receiving fuel cards in the mail. They would then take the card to designated Army and Air Force Exchange Service locations to be activated.
The mailings would take place over several weeks starting July 1, according to Dave Mattingly, coordinator of fuel-card development for Installation Management Command Europe.
The agreement was signed on Jan. 7 in Bonn. The fuel-card system had been requested by the German government.
Esso representatives were not available Wednesday to discuss the new program.
Once a customer received his fuel card, he could use it to pay for unleaded gas and diesel at all 1,200 Esso stations in Germany. But the customer would no longer be able to pay using coupons. Unused coupons could be turned into AAFES and applied toward a person’s fuel card.
Customers could also use the card to pay for fuel at on-post filling stations. They also could pay by cash or credit, but would have to present their fuel card to the cashier, who would register the fuel purchased against the customer’s monthly ration.
Most private cars are rationed 400 liters of fuel per calendar month. Government-owned vehicles have no limit.
AAFES will soon be launching a Web site to further explain the change, Mattingly said. Videos will also be produced to explain how to use the new system.
Customers would be able to re-charge their fuel cards online or over the telephone, Mattingly said, as well as at certain AAFES locations.
Mattingly said that flexibility is built into the system to correct problems that may arise once it takes effect.
The new system means customers could not hoard coupons purchased at lower prices to be used at later dates. It would also prevent customers from using more than their monthly ration.
The price of fuel would continue to be based on current average prices in the U.S. as determined by the Department of Energy. The up-to-date price would be charged automatically.
Customers who exceed their 400-liter monthly ration during a fill-up will have their transaction denied by the Esso cashier, Mattingly said, and would have to pay for the fuel in euros at German prices.
Cashiers will give customers receipts showing the amount of dollars remaining on the card, and the number of liters left in their monthly ration.
“It’s very important for people to be tracking (what remains of) their (monthly) ration before pumping fuel,” Mattingly said.
Users from the same household who use the same car, such as a husband and wife, Mattingly said, would especially need to know how much fuel the other has pumped in a given month.
Four hundred liters, or 105.7 gallons, means that a vehicle that averages 20 miles per gallon would be able to travel 2,114 miles per month under current rations. Customers will be able to apply in advance for a larger ration when needed, Mattingly said.
Customers who exceed their fuel-card dollar balance during a fill-up would have to pay off their overdraft to AAFES before being allowed to use the card again.
Aral stations located alongside autobahns, which currently accept fuel coupons, are not part of the new system, Mattingly said. Those stations could be brought into the gas-card system at a later date, but in the meantime will continue to accept valid coupons.
Drivers in Germany on temporary duty, rental-car users, or those driving in from neighboring countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, will be able to apply for temporary fuel cards.
Managers of fleets of government-owned vehicles will need to establish systems for managing their fuel-card programs, Mattingly said.