Portugal lifts restrictions on Autogas vehicles in underground car parks – at last!
Portugal has at last removed the main obstacle to the development of the Autogas segment in its domestic market. After a struggle lasting nearly 15 years, resulting more from prejudices than from rational arguments, the National Assembly decided to legislate in order to allow Autogas vehicles to be parked in underground car parks. At the same time, the requirement to display an identification sticker clearly indicating that the vehicle runs on Autogas, which was an additional disincentive to the use of Autogas as an alternative to traditional fuels, was also eliminated.
The process of trying to bring these changes about, within the context of efforts to create a more favourable regulatory environment for Autogas, date back to the late 1990s, when the major fuel marketers in Portugal first set about establishing Autogas in the domestic transport fuel market. Some of the early initiatives, informal attempts to reopen the legislative process, were launched by APGPL – the Portuguese Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gases – following on from work carried out by the Association’s Technical Commission, comprising representatives of the main LPG sellers.
For more than ten years, these efforts were constantly rebuffed, stifling opportunities for an open debate about the true facts surrounding the issue. In order to avoid reopening this “dossier”, the three Ministries involved – the Ministry of Economy and Employment, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Internal Affairs – systematically invoked unsubstantiated concerns about the security of Autogas vehicles.
But APETRO recently decided to relaunch the debate about the role of Autogas in Portugal, in view of developments across European and motivated by a new political environment, since 2006, that is more favourable for renewables and alternative fuels, and by a general willingness to simplify regulations and reduce bureaucracy (the so-called SIMPLEX programme). APETRO’s approach involved defining a new methodology for analysing the single most sensitive issue: the parking of Autogas cars in underground parks. This involved gathering information about practices in other countries through AEGPL, the European LPG Association, and raising support from other sector associations.
In order to strengthen the case for lifting the ban on underground parking, APETRO sought the help of CONSULSAFETY, a safety consulting company, in carrying out a quantitative risk analysis study, comparing the risks associated with an Autogas vehicle parked or driven in underground car parks with those for an equivalent gasoline-powered vehicle. Specifically, the study aimed to answer the following questions:
- Is parking an Autogas vehicle in an underground car park unsafe?
- In terms of safety hazards, how does the performance of Autogas vehicles compare with that of gasoline-powered vehicles?
This study came to the following conclusions:
- Autogas vehicles are at least as safe as gasoline vehicles.
- With gasoline systems, there is an added risk of fire in the event of leakage, given the lack of shutoff valves in the event of excessive flow of the fuel.
- The greater robustness of the reservoirs and other components of the Autogas system, thanks to their low deformity rates and high rigidity, confer an advantage over gasoline systems in the event of a collision or impact with a stationary object.
- Mandatory security systems in Autogas vehicles make them sufficiently secure, minimising the risk of an accidental escape of fuel and fire.
- Under comparable conditions, the frequency and probability of incidents is higher with gasoline systems than with Autogas systems.
- Thus, “the overall safety risk associated with the presence of vehicles parked in underground parks equipped is comparable for the two fuel systems.”
The study cited data from test results obtained by TNO, a Dutch scientific research institute, and summarised in the table below.
Comparison of Frequency/Probability of occurrence of incidents in Gasoline and Autogas systems
Source: TNO (1998), Risk Comparison of LPG and Petrol Vehicles in Public Car Parks, Netherlands.
With the help of this study and the information collected on the adoption of similar legislation measures in other EU countries, it was possible to break the previously rigid position of the regulatory authorities and reopen the whole discussion about Autogas. This whole process began in late 2009 and lasted until early 2011. APETRO, drawing on its technical expertise and partnerships with other institutions, played a central role, notably in providing well-substantiated criticisms of the existing regulations and presenting suggestions for solutions to how to improve them.
The fall of the government in 2011 interrupted the process of reform and, despite the political will and agreement of the government to adopt the changes, the process lost momentum. Only recently, thanks to an initiative of a group of deputies in the National Assembly, was it revived. APETRO was one of the entities invited to attend the hearings that Parliament organised for this purpose. This set of procedures and meetings eventually resulted in the publication of Law No. 13/2013, which eliminates the prohibition of parking of Autogas vehicles in underground car parks, replaces the previous sticker by a vignette and establishes a formal status of companies who deal with the repair of Autogas vehicles.
For the law to be adopted definitively, a regulatory document will need to be produced by the government, which was given a deadline of 90 days to publish it. Only then will it start to produce the desired effects.
Today, it is clear that the study that was carried out, sponsored by APETRO, together with the fact that Portugal was almost unique in Europe in banning Autogas vehicles in underground car parks, was crucial in achieving this success. The study toppled the dogmatic barriers to Autogas that had been put up and presented convincing technical and safety arguments that allowed the issue to be assessed rationally.
There is one conclusion that we can draw from the whole process of trying to achieve this reform and for which all deserve credit. Sharing knowledge on best practices and being focused and resilient in the face of irrational barriers must lie at the heart of our collective efforts to promote development of the Autogas market. APETRO will continue to play its part in making that happen.
For more information about developments in the Portuguese Autogas market, please contact Jose Alberto at firstname.lastname@example.org.