“Last night as I was patiently waiting at the bus stop, I couldn’t help notice that Sainsbury’s had sold out of unleaded petrol. Further along Wakefield Road there was a long queue outside the Tesco Extra; a little later, during a shopping trip to Morrison’s, there were near violent scenes as dozens of panic-driven car owners were jostling to fill up. I was not one of them as I had rather selfishly filled my car to the brim last Sunday!
Government advice had caused this panic by advising motorists to keep their tanks ‘topped up’. This stoked a crisis when realistically there was no need to do so. Any strike action would require seven days notice; ACAS was attempting to meet the employers and Unite, the tanker drivers’ union, to avert strike action. One cannot help but cynically believe that the government’s advice was politically motivated not least as Unite are a major donor to Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. I’ll bet a litre of diesel that their boss had not been invited to No.10 for steak and chips with the PM!
The root of the problem is our near complete dependency on supplies of unleaded and diesel. For many people and almost all businesses, there is an overwhelming reliance on cars and trucks for commuting, taking children to school, shopping, holidays and of course, servicing the supply chain.
A new term ‘transport poverty’, as well as ‘fuel poverty’, has recently come into general usage to describe how over 80% of households now spend over 10% of their disposable income on transport. For many lower income families with a car, this figure is nearer 15%. In short, we have to buy fuel for our cars (and spend more on inflation-busting bus and rail fares) and cut back on other things.
For many people, access to transport other than cars is almost non-existent, even in a town like Huddersfield. Bus services in the evenings and at weekends are very poor or almost non-existent if you live away from main roads. This state of affairs will persist until there is a radical sea change in national transport policy.
If I were Secretary of State for Transport (unlikely!), then I would exert more rigid controls over our private bus and rail companies. I would also make local transport free for all and to compensate, introduce a policy of national road pricing to establish a more level playing field in transport. The Netherlands incidentally are planning to make this happen by 2015. In the absence of this type of joined up thinking, and with all the political shenanery involved, we shall continue to panic buy fuel at any suggestion that supplies will be under threat. We just cannot go about our lives without it.”
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