Recent days have seen reports of panic buying of fuel as the media have suggested a fuel shortage due to a lack of truck drivers to deliver to petrol stations. This brings up two issues:
1. A shortage of truck drivers.
2. Car dependency.
Let's deal with the driver shortage first. Brexit has resulted in many European drivers quitting the UK, and the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a backlog of trainee drivers needing to be tested. This has created the perfect storm of a driver shortage, which will affect deliveries of all manner of products. Fuel tanker drivers need additional hazardous goods training, which exacerbates the problem for that particular trade.
To cut down on the number of lorries on the road (all of which need drivers), industry must look to getting more freight on the railways. Of course trucks are still needed to deliver to petrol stations, supermarkets, and high street shops. However longer distance trunking routes between suppliers and regional distribution centres should be moved onto the railways, freeing up truck drivers for local deliveries as well as reducing pollution. Bulk movements of commodities such as timber, cement, grain, etc. are obvious targets for modal shift. With the rise of online shopping and home deliveries, parcels traffic should return to the railways as well.
Panic buying is a symptom of wider cultural issues, but car dependency is one problem that can be easily solved. Cars themselves are a very inefficient way of moving people around, particularly for commuting and short journeys. Investment in active travel and public transport should provide the public with car-free alternatives that pollute less and aren't dependent on a finite and fickle resource for fuel. Electric cars will also help in this area, but should not be relied upon as a solution to problems such as pollution and congestion. since an electric car takes up the same amount of space on the road as an internal combustion-engined car, and also consumes the same amount of material to build. Petrol shortages have happened before, yet every time queues form outside petrol stations, nobody stops to ask "can we get by without the car?" It's time to stop relying on the car and look for alternatives.