Web site offers answers on new fuel card

By CHARLIE COON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 30, 2008

Got a question about the new AAFES fuel-ration card? How about 57 questions?

Installation Management Command-Europe has launched a Web site to explain the fuel card, including a section that includes 57 frequently asked questions.

The fuel card, which will operate like a debit card, is scheduled in June and July to replace the fuel coupon system used by Defense Department motorists in Germany.

The Web site — www.imcom-europe.army.mil/ sites/news/fuelcard.asp — includes a link for questions and comments as well as a link that locates some 1,200 Esso stations throughout Germany.

Esso is the only supplier participating in the fuel card system. Esso and certain Aral stations honor the paper coupons, which customers use to buy fuel in Germany at the prices they would pay at an on-base service station. German prices are typically twice as high or greater.

The fuel card will be used like a debit card at the Esso stations. A cashier will swipe the card through a machine, deducting the U.S. purchase price. The customer will get a receipt showing two balances: the cash balance in their fuel card account and the amount of liters remaining toward their monthly ration of fuel. Most personally owned vehicles are allowed to receive up to 400 liters, or 105.5 gallons, per month of U.S.-priced fuel in Germany.

The Web site was created to anticipate questions customers will have about the new system, according to Ken White, a spokesman with IMCOM-Europe.

“This is doing our due diligence with the audience, because they are the ones who will have to use (fuel cards),” White said.

Customers currently buy booklets of fuel coupons at certain AAFES stores. They use the coupons like money to buy fuel at Esso stations as well as at Aral stations along major German highways.

IMCOM-Europe is developing the system for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. AAFES, which administers the fuel coupon program, will take over the fuel card system when it is ready.

White said the Web site enables future fuel card users to point out uncertainties in the new system in advance of the June and July rollout.

“Since nobody’s done this before, it’s not like we can pull a book off the shelf and say, ‘This is what it is,’” White said. “We can use the audience as a tool to help us recognize what issues we overlooked and which were not explained or were not explained in complete fashion.”

Under the plan, drivers registering their Army-plated vehicles will receive fuel cards starting June 1. Drivers who currently have a vehicle registered with USAREUR will receive their fuel cards in the mail after July 1.

The fuel card system was requested by the German government, according to Dave Mattingly, coordinator of fuel card development for IMCOM-Europe.

Many of the questions he’s had so far are on how families with multiple cars and drivers would manage their cash and liter balances, Mattingly said.

He said their current balances should be obtained over the phone or Internet before filling up.

“All that information will be readily available,” Mattingly said.

Gas coupons in Italy will cost $2 more

A 100-liter booklet of unleaded-gas coupons will cost $2 more in Italy next month, while the price for diesel coupons will remain the same as in January.

The booklet for unleaded fuel rises in price from $99 to $101, while the diesel fuel booklet remains $111, said Bart Di Muccio, manager of the Tax-Free Office, which administers the program in Italy.

That represents a price-per-gallon of $3.82 for unleaded gas and $4.20 for diesel.

Each month, the Tax-Free Office sets prices for fuel coupons by calculating changes in the barrel price of fuel, fluctuations in the currency exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the euro, and any gains or losses the Navy Exchange and Army and Air Force Exchange Service incurred in the previous month’s sales.

There are no fuel stations on Italy bases for private vehicles, so drivers buy the booklets from Navy Exchange or AAFES outlets and can redeem the coupons at any Agip or Esso gas station in the country.

— From staff reports