MOORABOOL motorists could soon be forced to pre-pay for petrol as police and service station owners work to combat fuel-related thefts.

Chief Commissioner Ken Lay has called on all operators to introduce facilities that would allow motorists to pre-pay for fuel and cut down on “drive-offs”.

Recent crime statistics revealed 5932 instances statewide of motorists not paying for fuel between July 2011 and June this year.

According to Moorabool police, Ballan is a local hot spot. As reported by the Weekly, theft excluding burglary jumped 80 per cent in the past year. Bacchus Marsh’s Sergeant Pat Cleary said the BP service station on the Western Highway east of Ballan was frequently targeted by thieves.

Ballan BP manager Pauline Heywood confirmed drive-offs were a problem. “Sometimes we get three in a week; other weeks it can be more,” she said.

Ms Heywood said the service station required fuel to be pre-paid between midnight and 6am. But it was unlikely to extend this as it would stop customers spending money inside the store.

She called for harsher penalties for people caught stealing fuel.

Sergeant Cleary said local police supported the idea of pre-pay fuel. However, the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce, which represents independent service stations, said pre-pay fuel pumps were not a good idea. Executive director David Purchase said service station owners reported that customers felt pre-pay pumps were too inconvenient.