In the town of Baildon in the north of England, Jag Sanghera took the train to work instead of driving, saving the fuel needed to drive his daughter to preschool. In west London, Uber driver Laid Ibrahim tried at least seven gas stations before finding one open at 2 a.m. and standing in line for 80 minutes. Across town, Nick Day said the private ambulance service he worked for was forced to reduce the number of its vehicles on the road from six to four.
As the government tried to calm an anxious nation on Monday, petrol stations across Britain continued to run dry and thousands of Britons saw their lives turned upside down.
Officials said there was no shortage of fuel and blamed the problems on panic buying. But analysts said the real cause of the chaos is a chronic shortage of truck drivers to deliver fuel to gas stations, and the government would question whether it should bring in the military to help make deliveries.
Whatever the cause, the fuel reserves the British once took for granted were disappearing, lines of vehicles blocked the streets near gas stations and some fuel-dependent businesses were suddenly shut down.
Dlu Uddin, the owner of Bricklane Minicab, an east London taxi service, said he usually employed 10 drivers, but as of Sunday only two had turned up. Others don’t want to drive too far from home because they are afraid of running out of fuel and not being able to return home, he said.
âThe situation is really, really bad,â said Uddin, who said gas stations in his area were dry. “I never dreamed of this happening in England.”
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent fuel retailers that make up 65% of gas stations nationwide, said its members reported 50% to 90% of pumps were dry in some areas, Reuters reported.
On Monday, before ministers met to consider the crisis, Environment Secretary George Eustice said there were currently no plans to bring in the military – a move that may reassure some Britons on the fact that the crisis was under control but to alarm others by stressing its magnitude. .
âThe root cause of these current issues is this panic buying episode, and most importantly, people are starting to buy gasoline as they normally would,â Mr. Eustice told Sky News, adding that there were sufficient supplies in the country even though there was. was an issue with fuel deliveries.
Critics have called the comments an attempt to blame British citizens for shortages which are at least in part a consequence of government policies, such as its post-Brexit limits on immigration from European Union countries.
And across Britain, government assurances have done little to assuage frustration.
Mr Sanghera, 36, an actor in Baildon, West Yorkshire, said he visited a handful of stations on Sunday, to refuel for the week’s work and to take his two-year-old daughter years in his nursery school. He left after learning that only diesel fuel was available.
“I came home feeling bad, because I knew I had just wasted gasoline that could have taken my daughter to nursery and back, at least for today,” he said. he declares.
Mr Sanghera’s tank was nearly empty on Monday when a local Facebook community page alerted him that a nearby station had gasoline.
But as a precaution, he took the train to work rather than driving the car, so the gas “could only be used for the ride to my daughter’s nursery and back.”
Tanveer Minhas was greeted with chaotic scenes when he arrived at his local train station in south London on Sunday.
“There was a traffic jam, queuing in at least two streets and also coming from the opposite direction,” Minhas said. On Monday, the station was empty and there were yellow signs draped over the pumps indicating they were no longer in use.
âI know there is a shortage of drivers, but two years ago when we had the coronavirus pandemic, everyone was panicking, and now it’s starting again,â he said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Since Brexit took Britain out of the European Union’s Single Economic Zone, it has been difficult for companies to hire drivers from the bloc as freely as before the continent’s split. A long-standing shortage of truck drivers has also been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has slowed the issuance of new permits.
Ministers say the solution is for the industry to train more drivers and improve wages and conditions for hard work.
But that’s a long-term perspective, and the government has been forced to reverse policy and offer 5,000 temporary work visas to foreign truckers, and suspend antitrust rules to allow oil companies to pool. supply information and coordinate deliveries.
The use of military drivers would mark a significant escalation, but industry experts doubt even that would end the disruption quickly.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, told the BBC that “there has been background training for military personnel” but added that it would likely only be useful for moving supplies from point to point rather than loading and unloading. fuel, a skilled trade that requires training.
“There is not a single lever that will be pulled by government and industry to resolve this situation,” he said. âThese are small levers that each contribute a little to move forward.
Paul Mummery, spokesman for the Road Haulage Association, which represents road transport operators, said the military has around 2,000 trained drivers and many would not have the certification currently required for civilian tankers.
“We have to find who they are, extract them from what they are doing, support them in the civilian streets” – referring to the non-military world – “and attach them to companies”.
âI suspect this is not something that can be exploited today,â Mummery added.
Industry groups have yet to receive details of the government’s plan to offer 5,000 short-term visas to foreign truck drivers – what documents will be needed or whether permit processing will be speeded up. The government has said it will aim to process visas within 15 days of submitting applications.
Such visas would be valid for three months, according to the plan, but Mr Mummer’s group thinks a six-month period would be more practical given the time required to process applications. âIn terms of three months, how attractive will that be to foreign drivers? Probably not very, âMummery said.
The hope of the government and the fuel industry seems to be that with their gas tanks full, Britons will start to return to their normal buying habits and the situation will slowly start to normalize.
“As many cars now contain more fuel than usual, we expect demand to return to normal levels in the coming days, easing pressure on gas stations,” major fuel companies said on Monday. the fuel industry in a joint statement.
It is far from certain, however.
âWe are 100% focused on our delivery operations, and deliveries take place across the country,â said Allan Davison, Managing Director of Hoyer Petrolog UK, a leading UK fuel distributor.
“However, as long as people continue to buy or store fuel that they do not need, it will be difficult to replenish the sites.”