‘They think it’s the end of the world’: Drivers blame panic buying and government as pumps run dry

‘Everybody’s just got to be sensible’ says one motorist — but many find common sense in equally short supply

Andy Gregory
in Edinburgh
Sunday 26 September 2021 02:26 BST
Timelapse footage shows how long cars queue for to access petrol stations during UK fuel crisis

As long queues for petrol stations caused traffic gridlock and frayed tempers in many areas, drivers on Saturday expressed frustration at “daft” panic-buying that has seen some filling jerry cans even getting into fights over the last drop of fuel.

Despite repeated assurances that there is no shortage of fuel, million of motorists were filling this weekend amid fears that the supply chain crisis that has left supermarket shelves empty would soon cause the same problem at the pumps.

But while the surge in demand drained some garages dry, it left others with only a slight uptick in business.

In Edinburgh, there were no snaking queues or forecourt fights — but there were plenty of pumps with the dreaded yellow ‘out of order’ plastic collar.

“This is the third time lucky this morning. Fortunately I still had fuel in the tank,” said Sandy, 24, at a Shell garage close to the start ofthe M8 motorway. “I’ve never experienced anything like it before.

He said he had “been making a point of not panic buying fuel”, but was planning to drive to Scotland’s west coast.

“I think it’s daft, but it’s all over social media people doing that sort of thing.”

Most drivers claimed only to be refuelling as normal, or ahead of a long journey, and appeared pleasantly surprised by the lack of queues that awaited them at quieter forecourts.

“This is the first time I’ve come to a petrol station in weeks actually and I’ve been reading over the last few days about the situation, particularly in England,” said 69-year-old retiree Jim McCall while filling up at a quiet Esso garage on Queensferry Road, which sported at least one “out of use” sign.

“I’m almost surprised how easy it is, it’s relaxed,” he said. Predicting the race for fuel would blow over “in a couple of days”, he suggested that “people are just panic buying” and joked: “They think it’s the end of the world. We’ll have to go down to our nuclear bunkers with our cans of petrol just in case.”

At the same garage, Donald Cunningham, 67, said: “The only reason why I’m putting petrol in the car today is I’m driving to Dunfermline, otherwise I’d be sitting at home watching the telly.”

As one petrol retailer implemented a £30 limit to curb panic buying, Mr Cunningham, who works as a sales specialist at a medical manufacturing firm, welcomed the move as “a very sensible idea”.

“I think there’s an element of society that just doesn’t think, they just go completely crazy,” he said, adding:

“It’s incumbent on petrol stations and supermarkets to say ‘if you’re going to behave like this, we’re going to put limits on what you can do’. It’s sad, in this day and age, that [to] adults you have to actually say: ‘no, you can’t buy 100 toilet rolls.’ Why in God’s name would you want to buy them in the first place?”

Cars queue outside a petrol station amid reports of panic buying
Cars queue outside a petrol station amid reports of panic buying (Andy Gregory/The Independent)

Some drivers also pointed a finger of blame at news outlets amid images of long queues.

At a Sainsbury’s forecourt where most diesel pumps had run dry, Linda, a 66-year-old charity worker, said the media was “making a mountain out of a molehill”, adding: “Everybody’s just got to be sensible.”

One garage manager did not want to be interviewed, insisting there was “no pickup at all” in business on what had been a “standard Saturday”.

“There is absolutely no issue with supplies, we’ve got daily deliveries,” he said. “There are no issues and no shortages, this is normal.”

While the government is providing 5,000 temporary visas for lorry drivers, ministers are understood to also have a backup plan named Operation Escalin to draft in soldiers as lorry drivers if necessary.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood called for “imaginative ideas” on Saturday, and suggested that hundreds of newly-arrived Afghan refugees could be trained to help fill the vacancies.

“By all means do it and get them working, that’s fantastic,” said Paul, a 45-year-old investment banker who had stopped at a busy Shell garage to buy soft drinks. “But it’s not going to solve it in two weeks.”

Alex, a 36-year-old structural engineer trying to fill up with a full tank ahead of a journey to York, was similarly pessimistic.

“It’s going to get worse,” he said. “It starts with petrol – bog roll and nappies will go next.”

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