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(Not) Driving Miss Daisy

Well I’m standing by a river
But the water doesn’t flow
It boils with every poison you can think of

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Except, at the moment you can’t see what the road is paved with because of all the cars queuing to squeeze that final teaspoonful of petrol into their full-to-the-brim fuel tanks.

Last year’s pasta, loo-roll and PPE masks is this year’s unleaded. You had to laugh, or cry, at the images on the news of a petrol tanker stuck on its way to an Esso garage (other petrol marques are available) in a mile-long queue, of cars trying to fill up. It’s less funny when you see the story of the ambulance on a blue-light call, that crashed into a queue of stationary traffic it was trying to skirt round.

At quarter past midnight on Friday, the main road through my town, wherein lie two fuel stations within 100 yards of each other, was completely rammed. It was as busy as school drop-off time on a particularly wet Wednesday. I posted a picture on Twitter and got snippily told “How do you know they were panic-buying? They may have simply been people who really, really needed fuel to be able to get to work the next day” Maybe so, but every single one of them? At Midnight?

I’m old enough to remember similar scenes in the 1973s when the Arab/Israeli war drove home to the global populace just how dependent we really were on the black stuff. Also, the 2000 shortage caused by hauliers blockading the fuel refineries in protest at the rise in petrol prices to 88p a litre. Yes, way back then, less than 88p shiny pennies bought you a whole litre of the good stuff. Salad days.

It’s not just the fault of Brexit, though restricting the ability of haulage companies to recruit worker from our nearest neighbours hasn’t helped. It’s not just the fault of Covid – lorry drivers, being pinged, isolating, etc – though the fact that there is an estimated backlog of 54,000 licences still being processed by DVLA staff working from home hasn’t helped either. Nor has the dawning realisation on the part of drivers and potential drivers that it can be a pretty grim job at times. Long hours with only Sally Traffic for company, few facilities or places to rest up – and during the height of Covid-panic-stations what few there were, were closed. DPD, Hermes, Amazon, the supermarkets and even Yodel, all offered slightly better options if you want a driving job.

It’s slightly the fault of the panic-buyers. Husband has just come back from Sainsburys where he said the petrol station was attempting to organise the queues with military precision. It was all going well, apparently, until he and the lady marshalling the cars watched, open-mouthed, as an elderly gent got out of his car, put his glasses on the look at the pump, then put a miniscule amount in his car tank, before taking four jerry-cans out of his boot and filling them. Then: cans in the boot, glasses off, wallet out of the car, lock car, unlock car, put glasses back on, lock car again, wander over to kiosk, meander round the little shop area, return with a pint of milk, a loaf of bread and yes, toilet roll. Unlock car, get in car, peer at Sat Nav, poke fingers vaguely at Sat Nav, put seatbelt on, start car, peer at Sat Nav again and then slowly drive away.

It will sort itself out eventually, these things always do. It may take a few Army lorries to supplement the hauliers, it may not. The thing is though, this could have been predicted. Every recession I’ve been through has had issues with transport in the aftermath. Look back through the press releases on the Logistics UK website: the warnings were there. Shame the government wasn’t listening.

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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