Judaka Hasan leaves his home in Nottingham most mornings and asks himself a question he never thought people in Britain would have to think: “Where can I get gas today?”
Mr. Hassan runs a family-owned car dealership and keeping cars stocked has become an almost daily chore. They’ve spent hours trying to find an open gas station and even when they do, sometimes the lineup for the pumps stretches for blocks.
He got so frustrated this week that he created a Facebook group where people could share tips for buying gas in the city. “I was expecting 100 members,” he said. “Now we have about 600 and it keeps on increasing. I just want it all to end.”
The same story is playing out across Britain as frantic drivers search for places to fill up. The panic buying began a week ago when BP indicated it would have to close some outlets due to a shortage of tank-truck drivers. This led to a mad rush to the pumps, which has exacerbated the shortage and led to arguments and beatings as drivers struggle for every drop.
The shortage has prompted many local councils to cut back on garbage pickup and reduce bus services. Dozens of school bus companies have abandoned routes and a third of London taxi drivers have been forced off the road. This week Buckinghamshire Council took the extraordinary step of issuing petrol permits to give priority to students and health workers at gas stations.
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The government is scrambling to calm things down and reassure drivers that there is plenty of fuel. Soon after signing off on a plan to put the military on standby to operate tank trucks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week, “I urge everyone to go about their business as normal and fill it up when needed.” I will.”
There were some indications on Thursday that the shortage has started to ease. The Petrol Retailers Association, or PRA, said 27 percent of its 5,500 member stations were dry, up from 60 percent last weekend. However, many gas stations put limits on how much customers can buy, and some only stock one type of fuel.
The problem stems from a shortage of truckers who have been building all summer. The Road Haulers Association has estimated that the UK has fewer than 100,000 drivers, almost twice as many as before the pandemic.
Britain is not alone in the shortage of truckers, but Brexit has made things worse as it has cut off the free flow of labor from the EU. Britain relied on around 60,000 drivers from EU countries, but most went home after The country cut its last remaining ties from the bloc earlier this year.
The government has tried to woo some by announcing a temporary visa scheme for 5,000 EU drivers. But industry executives say this is a short-term solution and they suspect many will accept offers for only three months’ work. Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps is also trying to accelerate training and licensing for truck drivers. He blames the pandemic for creating a backlog of 54,000 licenses that need processing.
Despite calls from Mr Johnson and others to remain calm, people like Michelle Lawrence have not seen much improvement.
Ms. Lawrence is a personal care worker and uses her car daily to travel to client’s homes around Hastings, a city on the UK’s south-east coast. Earlier this week his search for fuel nearly ran out of gas. She went to four stations and finally one was open, only to have to wait in line for hours. “It’s been terrible,” she said on Thursday. “There have been fights all over my area, everyone abusing each other.”
She’s running low again and is considering Thursday whether to head out in the middle of the night to find a station, in hopes the lineup will be smaller. “I’m really scared of it,” she said. “From where will I get petrol? I thought it would have calmed down by now but it didn’t. It’s just as bad.”
PRA President Brian Maderson acknowledged that the industry is struggling to cope. “Trying to calm it down seems like an important task at this point in time,” he told reporters on Thursday. “The surge in demand appears to be continuing. There has been no reduction in the pressure of drivers wanting to refuel whenever they can, wherever they can. “
Even though the gas shortage may soon go away, another energy crisis is brewing. Rising natural gas prices have created chaos for energy suppliers and consumers are facing huge increases in domestic heating bills.
Three low-cost energy suppliers shut down this week, unable to pass the sudden increase in wholesale prices on to consumers due to the country’s regulated pricing system. This brings the total number of failures to nine in September and to about 40 this year. This has caused millions of consumers to suffer a sudden spurt in heating costs as they switch to more expensive suppliers.
And there is little comfort from meteorologists. Most are forecasting above average winter this year.
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