After 18 days of fuel shortages, British motorists are still queuing for bombs.
LONDON (E24): 13 drivers in a gas queue pull their hair out and honk in unison as a large white pickup approaches from the right and sneaks into third place.
The Esso station along the A5 in Cricklewood north of London is one of the few in the area with open pumps. The Shell station, some 40 meters up the road, has put up handwritten “sorry, no fuel” signs and cones in front of the pumps.
There is still a focus for the UK fuel crisis.
Although far from all the pumps being empty, and not all having long lines, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already deployed the army to transport fuel to the stations.
The reason is that the empty pumps are partly due to a precarious shortage of heavy transport drivers, around 100,000.
Thousands of drivers left the UK due to Brexit and many have chosen to stay in their home countries because working conditions have relatively improved. The pandemic also plays an important role.
– I was lucky
Some cars behind the white van sit with Philip Samworth’s piano voice in a red Toyota hybrid. He takes it easy after about 10 minutes in line.
“I only came driving down this road because I knew there were several gas stations here, so I was hoping one of them had fuel,” says Samworth from behind the wheel.
The queue grows longer as he talks to E24, heading towards the evening rush in London.
– I was lucky, I could see the beginning of the queue and I stayed behind.
The British Army is ready to supply fuel for months
Issue an emergency visa
And the queues can last a long time. Authorities have made 5,000 temporary visas available to foreign heavy transport drivers, of which only 300 are for tanker truck drivers, according to BBC.
As of October 6, a modest 127 drivers from the EU had applied for this special visa.
The emergency visa offer is something of a total reversal for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tightened immigration rules after Brexit and has insisted the UK must become less dependent on foreign labor.
Johnson told the BBC that the low number of drivers reflected a “global problem” that was particularly acute in the UK, and that it was attributed to a long-underpaid heavy haulage industry.
– People go crazy
– I’m not desperate, but I thought that if I can get fuel now, this is a good time. When I have a hybrid, I can drive relatively cheaply and I don’t need a lot of fuel. But here I saw the opportunity and I seized it, says Philip Samworth, who is constantly advancing in the queue.
This is his first long tail for gas pumps, he says. But he had to take a detour.
– There is a gas station at the foot of the street where I live. And when they get fuel there, people go completely crazy and block the whole area, he says.
The area you’re talking about includes the A406 ring road, also known as the North Circular, and according to Samworth, it goes so far that motorists block this road while queuing.
– Motorists can’t pass, it’s crazy. And people try to sneak into the queue, like the white truck there, he says, pointing through the windshield.
– They just jump straight. And I think the police have been called several times in the last few days. It can be ugly, he says.
John (90) on the supply crisis: – I lived during the war, this is nothing
The fuel shortage has lasted for 18 days, starting on Monday, and although there is an improvement in several places, around one in five stations in London and the south-east of England is still empty of fuel.
On Thursday of last week, the Gasoline Retailers Association (PRA) announced that the situation was in “a marginal improvement”, but that they were still facing difficult times, according to BBC.
On the same day, news came that UK fuel chains were calling for an independent investigation into the supply crisis, to make sure it didn’t happen again.
– Recovery is just not coming fast enough. We have been in crisis for 15 days. There needs to be an independent investigation of the crisis so that motorists are protected against this type of acute fuel shortage in the future, Board Chairman Brian Madderson at PRA told The Guardian.
According to figures from the Ministry of Commerce, Energy and Industry Fuel stocks fell dramatically several days before September 23, when the shortage hit the media. The news came after BP announced that they had to ration fuel due to a lack of drivers.
Stocks fell from the normal level of 40 to 45 percent to 33 percent before September 20 and continued to fall below 20 percent when the panic attack occurred.
At the same time, the oil companies have emphasized that there is fuel available.