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Fuel shortage upends daily life in HCMC

By Dang Khoa, Minh Tam, Pham Nga   November 3, 2022 | 04:06 pm PT
Mauritz Pretorius has to go to several gas stations before he can fill his motorbike with VND50,000 ($2) worth of fuel since it has become scarce.

The South African living in HCMC's District 7 says: "With many gas stations closed, the ones remaining open are always full. So if I want gas, I must wait in line for about 15 minutes."

Fearing the shortage might persist, he goes to a filling station every two days to make sure he never runs low.

Mauritz Pretorius running in residential neighborhood in HCMC. Photo courtesy of Pretorius

Mauritz Pretorius who lives in HCMC’s District 7. Photo courtesy of Pretorius

Dutchman Armin, who prefers to go by one name, has a similar experience with many gas stations in his area now only selling VND30,000-50,000 worth of fuel to any customer.

"One time I was almost out of petrol and could not find a gas station. I was worried I would have to walk but luckily I found a place that sold me gas for VND30,000."

Their plight is not uncommon with expats and locals alike struggling to buy fuel in the southern metropolis.

Some 65 out of 550 filling stations in HCMC had low inventories on November 3.

The shortage is more severe in outlying districts like Cu Chi, Hoc Mon, Binh Chanh, Binh Tan, and 12, where retailers are not part of a big chain of stations, director of the city Department of Industry and Trade, Bui Ta Hoang Vu, says.

People queue up at a gas station in HCMCs Binh Thanh District on November 11, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

People queue up at a gas station in HCMC's Binh Thanh District on November 1, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Ngan Ngoc of District 8 says she has to frequently travel around the city due to the nature of her work and spent VND5 million in less than a month on motorbike taxis instead of waiting in long queues or driving around searching for gasoline.

The 27-year-old media employee was driving home from work on October 10 when she stopped at a filling station near home and was shocked to see people waiting in lines outside.

She went around looking for another gas station after waiting for more than 30 minutes, but many had "out of stock" signs in front.

She left for District 7 hoping to get fuel, but ran out of gas almost immediately.

She found a place with gasoline late at night, but it only sold VND50,000 worth to each customer.

In the days that followed she had to "wait forever to buy gas" again and again.

Tired of having to worry she would run out of fuel on the road, she decided to use motorbike taxis.

"I know it is costly but I accept it."

The VND5 million she has paid is a fourth of her salary while gasoline usually costs her less than VND1 million a month.

Ho Quoc Thong, a faculty of the economics department at the HCMC University of Economics, says the pandemic and global conflicts have had a double impact on the income and lives of a majority of people.

"The additional expenses or losses to society as a result of the petroleum market insecurity are enormous."

Nguyen Van Hieu, 40, a motorbike-taxi driver, is a prime example.

His income is solely dependent on his motorcycle, but on several days he stood in line for half an hour to get just VND30,000 worth of gasoline.

Though demand for his services was booming, he had to turn off the application for two hours every day since he was busy queuing to fill his vehicle or lacked the gas to travel the required distance.

His monthly income has dropped by a third, as it has for many of his colleagues, since he frequently has to search for a gas station with stocks.

Nguyen Van Hieu looses out on potential income when having to queue up at gas station. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Nguyen Van Hieu, a motorbike-taxi driver, is losing a big chunk of his income since he has to queue up at gas stations amid a widespread fuel shortage. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Nguyen Trung Tuan, 40, says filling up for himself and his wife has been his top priority for the past month.

"Though my gas tank is never quite empty, I go ahead and fill it up. Whenever I have some free time, I go to the gas station to buy gas."

In the last few days members of a Facebook group called ‘Dap Xe Di Lam’ (Biking to Work) have been saying they prefer riding bicycles to work.

The group's admin, Phuong Chi of Hanoi, says the group has expanded by more than 1,000 members since July.

Though members do not always ride bikes, it shows they treat them as an option at a time when gasoline is scarce, she says.

Nguyen Hoai Nam, 30, who works for a multinational tech company in HCMC, has started to work from home.

Since he needs to commute about 10 kilometers between outlying Nha Be District to District 10, he always strives to have a full tank of gas in his car.

However, the first two weeks of October were truly a "nightmare."

He requested his company that he be allowed to work from home after being frustrated by having to queue for gas every day, and his boss agreed.

Though getting gas is tedious and time consuming, some foreigners say they do not plan to ditch their motorbikes anytime soon.

Pretorius says the distance between his house and the school where he teaches English is too big to bicycle.

Armin says: "I gamble that I can always get some petrol."

He adds that he is not too worried and trusts the government to tackle the problem.

As for Ngoc, she will keep riding a motorbike-taxi and paying VND5 million a month if the gasoline shortage persists.

 
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