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Don't panic: What can the French do if there's no fuel?
Photo: AFP

Don't panic: What can the French do if there's no fuel?

Oliver Gee · 24 May 2016, 07:55

Published: 24 May 2016 07:55 GMT+02:00
Updated: 24 May 2016 07:55 GMT+02:00

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The idea of fuel literally running out is a very foreign concept for many people in the western world. It's one of those things we just take for granted. 
But that's what appears to be happening all over France, or rather than running out, it's more a case of motorists can't get their hands on it as unions block refineries and fuel depots.
The government has said that 2,400 of the country's 12,000 petrol stations had run dry or almost on Monday evening, while the Total group said  on Monday that 509 of its 2,200 stations had either run out or were suffering severe shortages - and that's up from 390 on Sunday. 
Which parts of France are most hit by fuel shortages?
On top of this, activists have blocked 189 fuel depots. The way it's looking things may get worse before they get better. 
By Monday evening the same long queues at petrol stations that we saw in the north and west of the country could be seen in Paris.
So what are the public supposed to do?
Don't fill up your car unless it's crucial
It sounds obvious, but apparently it isn't.
The finance minister has said that "talking about a shortage creates the shortage". In other words, he's saying that the motorists who are rushing to stock up needlessly with fuel are simply helping to make the pumps run dry. 
It might sound counter-intuitive, but you've got to leave pumps alone, the government says. France has back-up supplies of fuel to last up to 90 days in the case of a real shortage, so the message to those panicking is don't.
That's fine for those who don't really need petrol to get to work. What about those who do?
The reality is that people are rushing to the pumps because they need fuel. Ironically many are using up what reserves they have, driving around to find a petrol station that actually has petrol.
20-litre limit in place in this station. Photo: Debbie Pedrayes
Find another means of transport?
Take this as an excuse to dust off the old bicycle again. Granted this won't be an option for many people who need to travel long distances to work, but for those who live a short distance from work, it's an option.
Most French cities have public bike rental schemes, though getting your hands on one might be tough. 
Even shorter journeys could be done on foot. Walk down to the shops instead of driving. 
In Paris there is also the electric car renting scheme Autolib', with the obvious bonus being you don't need petrol. The cars can be used throughout Paris and the surrounding suburbs.
Or, why not take advantage of the quite excellent carpooling services in France that are already popular, such as BlaBlaCar. 
If all the carpool drivers have run out of petrol too, you can always take the train. We just recommend you check first that your train isn't affected by rail strikes scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday this week.
Many might simply choose to work from home.
Don't worry - there are reserves
Story continues below…
France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls has insisted that everything is under control and that there was no risk of a fuel shortage.
"We have the situation fully under control. I think that some of the refineries and depots that were blocked are unblocked or will be in the coming hours and days," Prime Minister Valls told reporters during a visit in Israel.
"In any case, we have the reserves to deal with these blockades."
On Tuesday morning police moved in to break up the blockade of around 200 union militants around the Fos-sur-Mer refinery and fuel depot. 
Union leaders described the police action as a "declaration of war", which is not what the government or drivers really needed to hear.
Unions appear to have plenty more gas left in the tank to continue their protests, motivated by a desire to force the government to scrap its labour reforms.
Until that runs out the French public might have a tough few days and weeks to come. But don't panic.
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