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UK's petrol stations are running out: What does it mean for Australia?

·3-min read
'Sorry out of use' signs on petrol pumps.
Cascading panic has emptied petrol stations of fuel. (Image: Getty).

Drivers in the UK have been left waiting hours to fill up at petrol stations as a nationwide shortage of truck drivers triggered a petrol “panic buying” frenzy.

Almost 4,000 petrol stations across Britain had sold out of fuel on Sunday, due to “panic buying, pure and simple”, according to the Petrol Retailers Association.

The fuel frenzy is largely due to a major shortage of truck drivers across the UK. The shortage is due to older workers retiring, Brexit preventing some foreign drivers from entering the workforce and COVID-19 upending the qualification process.

The country was unable to test 40,000 potential new drivers as the pandemic forced widespread exam cancellations. Now, Britain faces a shortage of 100,000 drivers, the haulage workers’ union, the Road Haulage Association claims.

Britons on Saturday were urged to act rationally at the bowser, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps noting that it wasn’t a fuel shortage so much as a driver shortage.

"So the most important thing is actually that people carry on as they normally would and fill up their cars when they normally would, then you won't have queues and you won't have shortages at the pump either,” he said.

The UK Government will issue temporary visas to 5,000 foreign truck drivers in a bid to solve the crisis.

And on Monday local time, the British government announced it is putting the military on standby to deliver fuel and avoid an all out crisis.

Will the fuel shortage impact Australia?

Locally, NRMA spokesperson Peter Khoury’s message to Australian motorists is firm: the same thing won’t happen in Australia.

“The most important thing is that this is a transport related issue… it’s very much a UK issue, it hasn’t affected the global market and it hasn’t even affected the European market,” he told Yahoo Finance.

“We do import most of that refined fuel, and we are growing more reliant on imported oil, but we’ve not had supply chain issues with getting the fuel here and not with transporting it around the country. We didn’t even have those issues in the Second World War.”

Instead, Khoury believes motorists should focus on the price they’re currently paying for petrol.

Petrol prices at near three-year highs

Rising international oil prices pushed local prices to their highest level in nearly three years last week, with prices rising 3.2 cents to 157.4 cents per litre as of 20 September.

Prices eased slightly on Monday, down 2 cents to 155.4 cents per litre.

But for consumers, this is likely only a slight reprieve, Khoury said.

“In the major cities’ [petrol price cycles] we’ve seen higher than expected prices for longer periods, and we’ve seen changes in the way those price cycles happen,” he said.

“Prices go up overnight, very quickly and they go a lot higher than we would anticipate.”

Then, when prices fall, they fall more slowly than previously recorded and not to the low levels expected.

“The price cycles are working against motorists in Australia… and that means motorists are paying more for petrol than they otherwise should, and they’re paying that for longer.”

Motorists can save on petrol by doing their research, Khoury said, suggesting drivers check out the real-time data on petrol prices in their areas.

There are several ways drivers can check the fuel prices in their area including websites like the RACQ’s fair fuel price, FuelCheck NSW or RACV in Victoria.

“There’s a gap between the cheapest and most expensive petrol stations that can be 40 or 50 cents a litre, so obviously we don’t want people getting caught at the high end of those prices,” Khoury said.

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