Ex-MP builds Web business as Canada’s ‘gas price guru’

It was in 2007 and as a Liberal Member of Parliament for Pickering-Scarborough East that Dan McTeague launched a Web page to advertise gas prices at the pumps 24 hours in advance.  Just one section of his MP site at the time, he never imagined that five years later he’d be working full time on the project and carry the reputation as Canada’s gas price guru.

Yet TomorrowsGasPriceToday.com has become McTeague’s full-time vocation since he was swept out of office along with 42 other Liberal MPs in the May 2011 election. The Web property has grown into a lucrative business that attracts up to 70,000 page views a day and no shortage of advertisers. Now, McTeague and Consumer Guru Inc., his firm that operates the Web site, are launching mobile apps for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS platforms.

While the site’s attraction to consumers is to save a few bucks at the pumps by deciding whether they should fuel up today or tomorrow, McTeague sees the service as an important way to fight back against what he describes as an oil monopoly in Canada. The site highlights a serious problem in our country’s ability to produce enough product for consumers, he says.

“The economies today aren’t exactly on fire and you have to ask why we’re paying these prices… there isn’t enough emphasis being placed on the need to create a supply for ourselves,” he says. “I can’t change Ottawa, I can’t change pricing. But I can give people a tactical advantage to save a few cents per litre.”

Tomorrow’s Gas Price Today Android app is available in Google Play.

The Web site and apps show customers what the average price at the pumps is today versus what it will be tomorrow. Another 48-hour forecast predicts more generally whether prices are likely to go up, down, or stay the same.

The Android app has been available in Google Play since July 31. The iOS app was submitted to Apple at about the same time, according to Andy Walker, a partner in Consumer Guru Inc. and has just received approval to appear in the App Store. The free apps were spurred by an increase in mobile traffic to TomorrowsGasPriceToday.com, Walker explains.

Mobile traffic to the site has gone from five per cent of overall traffic to 25 per cent since one year ago, he says. “It became clear that mobile data relating to this topic was critical.”

App users can save money by filling up when the price will be at its lowest.

The site did have a mobile-optimized version, but research showed an app would be easier to monetize, Walker adds. That’s done with an ad-supported model. Plus, other mobile apps were using TomorrowsGasPriceToday.com data feeds to supply gas price information, without the site’s permission.

“You can’t very well ask someone to take their content down if you don’t have your own product,” he says. The pair has since been successful in asking those services to phase out usage of their data and has updated their site’s terms of use agreement.

Ranked at 1,262 in Canada by Alexa.com, the site’s accuracy for predicting gas prices has become well-known by Canadians living in the areas it serves. It’s currently available to 110 cities across Canada, focusing on populations of more than 100,000. The site doesn’t serve the Maritimes, where prices are government controlled.

McTeague is regularly featured as a guest on broadcast media and asked to explain such mysteries as why gas prices are always higher on long weekends, and why they never go down with the price of crude as quickly as they seem to go up.

“The power to deliver information instantly to people, for someone who’s worked in public policy, it’s a real marvel,” he says. “Canadians are very savvy when it comes to saving. If they can know in advance what the gas of price is going to be tomorrow, for free, they’re going to do it.”

The site has recently expanded to include “cottage country” gas prices for Ontario and prices along the U.S. border. It offers pump price bargain hunters a daily e-mail notification (currently counting more than 26,000 subscribers) and offers a widget for Web sites that want to share the information.

Although he’s no longer a politician, McTeague still sees the site as a consumer advocacy service, pushing back against an “oil oligopoly” at the wholesaler level. “If we had one source for food, we’d but up in arms. Energy has got a pass.”

The ex-MP may now be fully committed to serving as Canada’s gas price guru, but he still doesn’t rule out a running in a future election.

“Never say never,” he says.

Brian JacksonBrian Jackson is the Editor at ITBusiness.ca. E-mail him at bjackson@itbusiness.ca, follow him on Twitter, connect on Google+, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.
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