Drive-offs cost Canberra petrol station owner thousands

A Canberra petrol station owner says he has lost up to $2500 in the last four months as an increasing number of people drive off without paying for their fuel.

Venugopalreddy Togaru, who owns the United Petroleum station in Fyshwick, said 1543 litres of petrol had been stolen from his business since November 2017.

He estimated this had left him between $2000 and $2500 out of pocket, with about $70 or $80 of fuel stolen in an average incident.

Despite making several police reports, Mr Togaru said he had only been reimbursed for one drive-off, by "a genuine man who honestly forgot to pay".

"These drive-offs are happening about seven or eight times a month," Mr Togaru says. "I have to pay for it from my own pocket. We are the cheapest for petrol [in Canberra] after Costco, and still people don't pay."

Mr Togaru claimed police weren't taking his reports seriously. He understood that petrol thieves often used stolen cars or cars with stolen number plates, making it hard for police to track them down, but he believed many of the cases were clear cut.

"If the police don't take action, these people will just go and do it somewhere else," he said. "If you ask any service station owner, they will tell you the same thing. [The thieves] know nothing will happen."

However, ACT Policing said it had received Mr Togaru's complaints and was investigating them. An ACT Policing spokesperson said all types of crime were treated seriously, pointing out that petrol drive-offs were investigated as theft offences in the capital.

In other Australian jurisdictions, such as Victoria and Western Australia, petrol theft is viewed as a civil matter, in which fuel retailers can pursue people in court to recover the debt.

"In addition to investigating reports of petrol drive-offs, ACT Policing engages with petrol station owners about measures that they can put in place to help prevent this crime type," an ACT Policing spokesperson said.

ACT Policing has long encouraged service stations to introduce "pay before you pump" systems, so that fuel will not be released from pumps until it has been paid for.

Police encourage service station owners to fill out a petrol drive-off form on the ACT Policing website if they wish to report a theft. The owners will then be asked to come to a police station to make a statement and provide CCTV footage of the incident.