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See How Britain’s Gas Shortages Became a Crisis Overnight








Average fuel sales and deliveries per gas station

On Sept. 24, fuel sales spiked to almost twice the previous Friday’s total as shortages at some gas stations became front page news.

Fuel deliveries increased a few days later, but they came too late to avert a crisis.

Typical pattern of sales and deliveries

Average fuel sales and deliveries per gas station

Typical pattern of

sales and deliveries

On Sept. 24, fuel sales spiked to almost twice the previous Friday’s total as shortages at some gas stations became front page news.

Fuel deliveries increased a few days later, but they came too late to avert a crisis.

Average fuel sales and deliveries per gas station

Typical pattern of

sales and deliveries

On Sept. 24, fuel sales spiked to almost twice the previous Friday’s total as shortages at some gas stations became front page news.

Fuel deliveries increased a few days later, but they came too late to avert a crisis.

Average fuel sales and deliveries per gas station

On Sept. 24, fuel sales spiked to almost twice the previous Friday’s total as shortages at some gas stations became front page news.

Fuel deliveries increased a few days later, but they came too late to avert a crisis.

Typical pattern of sales and deliveries


Source: U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy | Note: The data is a sample that covers about 80 percent of typical gas sales. 10,000 liters is equal to 2,642 gallons.

New government data shows how the ongoing fuel shortage in Britain turned into a crisis overnight. On Sept. 24, panicked drivers bought twice as much fuel as the previous week while deliveries to most gas stations remained at normal levels.

After the widespread closure of gas stations and long lines clogging roads, the worst of the crisis now appears to be receding.

But in the South East and London, deliveries still remain constrained and the military has been deployed. About 200 soldiers are driving gas tankers and providing logistical support. In these areas, 12 percent of gas stations are still without fuel, according to the Petrol Retailers Association.


Fuel stocks have begun to rebound across the country, but London and the South East still lag other regions

Average stock levels at sampled gas stations





Fuel stocks are

typically around

40-50%.

Fuel stocks in the South East have been the slowest to recover.

Fuel stocks are

typically around

40-50%.

Fuel stocks are

typically around

40-50%.

Fuel stocks in the South East have been the slowest to recover.

Fuel stocks are

typically around

40-50%.

Fuel stocks in the South East have been the slowest to recover.


Source: U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy | Note: The data is a sample that covers about 80 percent of typical gas sales.

Government officials have said that the cause was not the supply of fuel itself, but rather a chronic lack of trained drivers to make deliveries.

The fuel crisis has been the most visible impact of the truck driver shortage that is hampering the U.K.’s economic recovery from the pandemic. And, with Christmas fast approaching, businesses could face more challenges. Andrew Opie, the director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, a trade association, has said that supermarkets alone need about 15,000 additional truck drivers to avoid disruption this Christmas.

The commercial hauling industry’s long-term issues have been compounded by Brexit and the pandemic. The work force tends to be older, and training for new drivers is expensive.

Today, there are 30,000 fewer truck drivers than a year ago. Britons have left the industry in droves and deteriorating roadside facilities and grueling hours away from home have not encouraged new workers to join.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied that Brexit is the cause of the driver shortages, instead singling out the trucking industry for underinvestment.

“The fact is that they haven’t been putting money into truck stops, into conditions, into pay,” Mr. Johnson said, “so there is no supply of young people in this country who frankly at the moment are thinking of becoming truck drivers.”

But analysts say that Britain’s exit from the European Union shrunk the labor market and that it will take time for businesses to adapt. According to the Road Haulage Association, an industry group that has advocated for more visas for drivers, Britain has a shortage of up to 100,000 truckers, with 20 percent of them having left since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union.


Britons account for two-thirds of the reduction in truck drivers

Change in the number of truck drivers in employment, by nationality

Source: U.K. Office for National Statistics | Note: Data shows the change in employment of truck drivers in the U.K. from July 2019 to June 2020, compared with the same period through June this year.

Because of the pandemic, the supply of newly trained drivers is tighter than ever. More than 40,000 people usually pass their truck driving exams each year, but last year that fell to just 16,000 as national lockdowns closed driving test centers and created a huge backlog.






The number of people passing the trucking test was down 25,000 in the last year over the previous year

The number of passed exams decreased by more than 60 percent at every test center in Scotland.

Year-over-year decrease

in passed tests

Circles are sized by the number of passed tests in 2019–20

At the Transport Training Academy in Manchester, just 439 people passed their exams last year, down from 1,207 the prior year.

There were 75 percent fewer passed exams at the Enfield test center.

The number of people passing the trucking test was down 25,000 in the last year over the previous year

Year-over-year decrease in passed tests

Circles are sized by the number of passed tests in 2019–20.

At the Transport Training Academy in Manchester, just 439 people passed their exams last year, down from 1,207 the prior year.

There were 75 percent fewer passed exams at the Enfield test center.

The number of people passing the trucking test was down 25,000 in the last year over the previous year

Year-over-year decrease in passed tests

Circles are sized by the number of passed tests in 2019–20.

The number of passed exams decreased by more than 60 percent at every test center in Scotland.

At the Transport Training Academy in Manchester, just 439 people passed their exams last year, down from 1,207 the prior year.

There were 75 percent fewer passed exams at the Enfield test center.


Source: U.K. Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency | Note: The map shows only test centers with data for the year spanning July 2019 to June 2020 and also for the same period through June 2021.

The chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, Richard Burnett, said that it will take at least 18 months to train enough drivers to meet demand.

To provide short-term relief for the industry, the government has announced temporary visas for 5,000 fuel tanker and food truck drivers. But industry experts predicted that the visas would be too little, too late, given the Europe-wide demand for truck drivers.

Recent figures from Transport Intelligence, an analysis firm, estimated a shortage of about 400,000 truckers across Europe, with Poland, Germany and the U.K. most affected.

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