Montreal company Fuel It fills your gas tank chez vous
Owning and maintaining a car comes with a lot of unavoidable, mundane, cost-prohibitive tasks, none more so than going to the gas station to fill up the tank. The price fluctuations, idling while waiting your turn, the smell of gas on your hands — all part and parcel with being a motorist.
Fuel It refuelling is banking that as far as life’s inconveniences go, filling up your car with gas is one Montrealers will happily part with in exchange for a subscription fee. The startup founders are not hardened drivers fed up with years in rush hour, but a pair of Loyola High School alums in their early 20s: Ryan Chadwick-Chabot and George Baktis.
Their mobile gas station will come to your vehicle anywhere on the island of Montreal, Laval and select parts of the South Shore — all booked via phone app — for the cost of the average gas price in town that day and a monthly fee of a dollar or $10 for the year.
“It came from the simplest idea,” said Baktis. “I hate going to the gas station. It’s not fun waking up 15 minutes early to go fill up before work, or to do it after work when you’re tired and just want to go home.”
The way it works is, users download the app for Android or Apple, create a profile and add their credit card info as you would any delivery service such as Uber.
Users can then schedule a fill up either three hours in advance or book during a time block, such as overnight. For emergencies, you can also receive a delivery within the hour for an additional fee. As long as you leave the fuel door ajar, there’s no need to come into contact with anyone.
There’s no minimum or maximum number of orders per month, and the minimum amount of gas per fill up is 20 litres. Like any gas station, they’re considered an essential business and can operate past the 8 p.m. COVID-19 curfew.
Since launching in January, the founders say the app has been downloaded about 6,000 times, and it’s jumping by about 100 or so a day. They knew they were on to something because friends and relatives were not only supportive from day one, but would frequently ask about beta testing.
The encouragement was necessary as the pair found themselves in an unlikely position of entering one of the most highly regulated industries in the country with no prior experience, one dominated by a select few mega corporations.
“We didn’t know anyone in the industry,” said Baktis.
“If anything, it probably helped us,” added Chadwick-Chabot. “We would go to suppliers and share our idea, and we were able to navigate through it all. But it was difficult to get permits. There’s no set permit for us because we’re not a gas station with reservoirs onsite.”
Another example of respecting regulations was their fleet, which currently consists of four mobile gas trailers that carry between 2,000 to 3,000 litres. They needed to be custom built to meet specifications from Transport Canada , they said.
Chadwick-Chabot said it took 11 months to get all the necessary permits. Then there are smaller safety aspects they had to consider when it comes to managing fuel, such as the need to attach a grounding line to the car to prevent static and a possible fire. They also can’t drive through the Louis-Hippolyte-Lafontaine or Ville-Marie tunnels, which limit the amount of gas a container can hold.
There were a lot of upfront costs to meet regulations, the duo admitted, but when it comes to delivering gas safely, cutting corners was a non-starter.
Where they couldn’t make up for these costs is the price per litre. By nature, Montrealers seek out the lowest price and follow the daily rises and falls, so there’s no way Fuel It could survive by overcharging the market for gas or tacking on extra delivery fees.
“We take pride in being competitive with our gas prices, and we wanted to eliminate price hunting,” said Chadwick-Chabot.
The prices are listed on the app, for regular and supreme, and are taken from the average Montreal price according to OPIS (Oil Price Information Service). Fuel It purchases its gas from a big-name distributor.
With the busy summer season approaching, Fuel It’s founders have ambitious plans for the rest of the year, from a redesigned app to finding ways to offset emissions.
“It won’t stop at gas for us. We want to include windshield fluid, car washing. Anything the customer might need,” said Baktis.
As to whether Montreal drivers have shown a willingness to give up their weekly or bi-weekly gas station visits for a delivery service, the duo says they’ve been met with both enthusiasm and skepticism.
“We know it’s not for everybody, but it’s OK that we’ve been getting a mixed reaction,” said Baktis. “There are so many cars on the island there’s no way we could fulfill demand for everyone.”