Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fuel prices on the up. Gasp!

Do you remember the UK fuel protest ? I mean the big one, where lorry drivers blocked the oil refineries because they objected to the high taxation of fuel ? It resulted in panic buying, long queues at petrol stations, some limiting the amount of litres per customer. Well, that was in 2000, eleven years ago.

If there was one big lesson to learn from 2000, it was that fuel is only going to get more expensive. It has risen from around 77p per litre in 2000, to 135p 2011.  There is an interesting table here, which tells me that fuel is only 25% more than in 1983 adjusted for inflation. The sting recently has actually been the price fluctuation.

The message was clear, if you or your business depended upon cheap fuel, you needed to adapt or suffer. So here we are 11 years later, high fuel prices are being discussed in parliament and it reads like a country in panic, like this is a surprise.

Have a read of the transcript of the discussion:  

There is some discussion about rural communities being hit hard by the fuel costs.  I was going to pull out a quote, but this comment from a BBC News Story: RAC Fears Over Lack of Roads Spending As Cars Increase sums up the pain very nicely:
229. TonyL99
Try living without a car where we live in Wales. 15 mins drive to the nearest shop now the village store has closed...due to the Post Office's branch closures. Public transport ? There is none....zilch, nowt.
Home deliveries ? Nope...too far.
Cycling is possible, have tried it. But the 20 mile route to the nearest town is extremely hazardous due to high speed traffic heading to the coast.
I can imagine their pain.  Over my lifetime, I have seen the growth of car ownership, the growth in numbers of out of town supermarkets (which you need a car to get to), and, the reduction in public transport (due to mass car ownership), and the closure of local shops (due to supermarkets).

It does seem that as we have become more affluent, we have bought cars, travelled further and decimated our own local services.  Now we are dependant on our cars and more and more people are feeling the pain of the fuel prices. 

There is a group of people that are often forgotten in this subject - those without cars, such as the elderly. More recently, the high cost of insurance means the young are also unable to drive. Even if you took away all duty from fuel, significantly reducing its cost, it is unlikely to solve the problems that the car-less have. How do they travel to food shops and jobs ?   All a fuel duty cut would do is help those with cars maintain their ability to drive to out of town supermarkets and far away jobs, leaving the car-less stranded.

In my opinion, we need to be Localized to get us out of the fuel price hole.  More local shops, more public transport, more cycle infrastructure.  France is a great example, full of rural communities, a long way from supermarkets, but their dislike of manufactured food means they still have local shops selling fresh goods. You'll also find mini outdoor markets where the local farmers sell their local goods. I'm sure its not all perfect, but as a tourist on a bicycle, I found it worked well.  Perhaps living in the country will become less viable for the long-distance commuter and then those communities will return to local workers, and local shoppers. More community, less dormitory. 

So fuel prices are on the up. You should have seen in coming and you should be adapting, rather than complaining. I see people adapting everyday, cycling to work, running to work, walking to Histon to the cheaper bus zone, getting the supermarkets to deliver their weekly shop, and an increase in local shop use.  I see it as a good thing and as we get better cycle facilities and closer shops, the young and the elderly will benefit.  Building more roads will not help. Spend our tax money on public transport and cycling and walking improvements.

I leave you with some choice quotes, mostly from those who need to adapt:

From parliament:
Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): Speaking as somebody whose combined family mileage approaches 50,000 miles a year, ...
Mark Garnier: My hon. Friend raises a very good point. The cost of car insurance is unbelievably high for young people. That is a particular problem when they are trying to get on the job ladder. We should certainly be doing everything that we can to help young people. 
Robert Halfon:
I will turn to the social impact. In Harlow, the cheapest unleaded petrol costs £1.33 per litre. Most Harlow motorists are therefore spending £1,700 a year just to fill their tanks. For most people, that is the equivalent of £2,200 of income before tax—a tenth of the average Harlow salary. I met a Harlow man called Mr Barry Metcalf a few weeks ago. He is self-employed and uses his own car to commute to West Ham for work [33 miles each way]. He spends nearly £60 a week on fuel and has seen a 35% increase in the past year or two. The Government define fuel poverty as spending a tenth of one’s income on heating bills. What about spending a tenth of one’s income just on driving to work?

ph73: Yeah ok, I'll start doing my 100 mile daily round trip commute by bike. Don't know why I hadn't thought of it before, seems so obvious now. 
Martin: I very rarely use my car but its very hard to carry 8 or 9 bags of family shopping on a bike and the vast majority use the car for work. Why poor public transport, poor cycle lanes ( my council took bikes of the road by allowing them to share footpaths ). more can be done to reduce the number of cars on the road but no one seems prepared to kick start it.
Maybe Martin needs a bike trailer or cargo bike ;-) 

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