May 20, 2022

Botu Linum

The Car & Automotive Devotees

UK’s petrol crisis highlights collapse of European road freight industry

6 min read

For the last week and a half, British petrol stations have been gridlocked by drivers seeking scarce supplies of fuel.

Petrol stations normally operate with their storage tank at 40 percent capacity and rely on “just in time” deliveries to replenish stocks. Two weeks ago, the ongoing shortages of HGV and fuel tanker drivers disrupted supply chains, leading to panic buying.

Between September 22 and 29, there was a 190 percent increase in the number of people driving to petrol stations, peaking at over 400 percent on September 25. Each customer bought 22 percent more fuel on average than normal.

At the height of the crisis on the weekend of September 25-26, average fuel capacity at petrol stations fell to 16.6 percent, with 50 to 90 percent running completely dry in different areas of the country. On September 28, national traffic fell to 86 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Healthcare staff and other key workers warned they would be unable to get to work.

A sign reading “We Have No fuel, waiting on delivery” at a fuel station in southern England (WSWS Media)

Although stocks have begun to increase again, one fifth of stations in London and the South East are still without fuel, and 18 percent had only one grade available. In the rest of the country, 8 percent are empty and a further 6 percent have only one grade.

Shortages have contributed to a sharp rise in the price of fuel, with petrol at an eight-year high and closing in on a record. This has also been driven by a global increase in the cost of oil, up ten percent over September and is expected to climb further.

After first ignoring the problem for days, the government announced on September 25 that it would launch a temporary visa scheme asking 5,000 lorry drivers to come from Europe to work in the UK delivering fuel and food from the end of this month—until Christmas Eve when they would be thrown out again.

Popular uproar forced the extension of this scheme to the end of February. But whereas the government is seeking to recruit around 300 drivers immediately, the Times and the Department for Business report that so far just 27 have applied. Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims the number is 127.