​NSW government to launch real-time petrol price app

The New South Wales government and its data-driven innovation minister will be launching a beta version of Fuel Check next week, a smartphone app updating Sydney's petrol prices in real-time.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The New South Wales government will be launching a beta version of a new smartphone app next week, which will provide citizens with real-time updates on petrol prices across the state.

Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello said his latest data-driven initiative, Fuel Check, is not only the first of its kind in the country, but the first of its kind in the world.

"It's a great example of using open data to empower -- if it's real-time, then we can make informed decisions right now," he said.

"As I'm driving between [Sydney] and Parramatta, I can see on my phone which petrol station I want to go to because [it will say] here is the cheapest E10 or here is the best price for premium, that is a great win for the community because it's basically information and information is power. It's empowering the consumer, which is a great thing."

Fuel Check will rely on petrol stations in the state sending their pricing schedule directly through to the department, but there is parliamentary backing to ensure the information is sent through in real-time.

"It's a pretty innocuous act; it just says Dominello now has the power to ask petrol stations to give us information," he said.

"In March this year, I did not have any visibility over petrol stations at all -- I was not getting any data. I asked the agency how many petrol stations there were and they said about 2,000. I said, 'What do you mean about? I'm the minister responsible, I should know exactly how many petrol stations there are'. They responded, 'Ah well, it's hard to get all the data'. So, that was it, I said we're going to change that, this is driving me nuts."

As the pricing data will be fed directly into a source that can be accessed by everyone in Australia, Dominello expects organisations such as the NRMA to create its own app on top of Fuel Check.

"I've got no doubt that once Fuel Check gets launched next week, when people see the power of that in the marketplace, other [states] are going to say, 'Why don't we have one?'," he said.

Within four months the project has gone from start to a smartphone application.

"It's already working, we'll go through that beta phase so we don't have the census debacle," he said.

"We'll have the beta phase so that people can play with it and give us their feedback and maybe put it out in the market two or three weeks later -- like most people do -- before we know it's rolled gold.

"Once we've got that I can then go back to cabinet, my other ministers, and more importantly the other agencies and say, 'We've done this in six months, and we've transformed the way we provide service and power to the people in NSW'.

"It's about the people in NSW and they want digital, so we have to move quickly," he said.

Fuel Check is the latest initiative to come out of the state's Data Analytics Centre (DAC).

Dominello first announced the state's plans to create the whole-of-government Data Analytics Centre in August last year, saying at the time that data is one of the greatest assets held by government, but when it is buried away in bureaucracy, it is of little value.

Since then, Dominello has introduced a bill [PDF] that requires each of the agencies and state-owned amenities to give his department their data within 14 days; and appointed an advisory board charged with overseeing how the state government uses that data.

"The more we can open up data, the more our democracy evolves. I think it is a measure of our maturity and our evolution," Dominello said.

Another initiative the minister and the DAC are currently working on is around home warranty insurance, a sector that currently costs the state AU$1.7 million per week.

"We have more people going bankrupt than we have premiums coming in to pay for it," Domnello said. "Of those that access the home warranty fund, 94 percent are due to insolvency."

When tracing back to see which builders are going insolvent, the minister said they found a trend that pointed them to the progress of a build and the lack of data around the legally required checks from a project start to finish.

"At the various critical points of a building construct, a certifier will come out and say done, done, done. Once you crunch the data, we can quickly work out to about an 80 percent degree of certainty, which builders are going to go belly up. And that's an amazing stat," he said.

In addition to the "silly old forms" builders need to submit to council throughout a build, Dominello plans to introduce an act to parliament that gives him the power to request real-time certification each time a check is performed.

"At every juncture of that building you're going to have to tell council anyway -- and you can go through snail mail with them -- but I want it in real time," he added.

Dominello said that 16 years is too long into the 21st century to be still using paper-based systems, noting that some agencies are still using fax machines.

"If they come up to me and say, 'Minister, I have a fax number', I say, 'Well you don't have a budget anymore' because if you have a fax machine, you don't deserve a budget," he said. "That's insane."

The DAC is also undertaking a data analytics project in South Sydney to determine who lives where and with whom. By feeding in data such as utility connections and disconnections, and rental bonds, the DAC wants to get down to an update interval of 30 minutes.

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