Rises? I’m filling up!

Debbie Newman driving instructor

Debbie Newman driving instructor

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Now here’s a statistic to halt motorists in their tracks.

It costs £4.30 more to fill up the average family car today than it did just eight weeks ago.

Blame the relentless rise in petrol prices at the pumps.

The cost of filling up is now forcing more motorists off the roads or to cut back on outings.

But what if you haven’t got a choice?

Take Lytham St Annes driving instructor Debbie Newman’s driving school - which features one of the girliest cars around, a Ford Fiesta covered in pink hearts.

“The car’s my advert,” says the woman behind Debbie’s Driving School.

She set up the business 12 months ago after years with a franchised school.

“I started in recession but wasn’t banking on how much petrol would go up.”

The latest penny on the price at the pumps is the talk of the driving test centre at Warbreck where instructors wait to learn whether pupils have passed or failed.

Debbie clocks up another pass – but admits some schools are fighting to drive up business.

“Parents aren’t booking lessons in the same numbers,” she adds. “Parents aren’t paying, they are tightening belts, young people are leaving it longer. The cost of insurance can be £3k for a first time driver. Then there’s petrol costs. I don’t want to put up prices as that will put it further from reach.

“I’m running to about 20 hours of instruction a week - which is why I have a second job.

“My petrol’s about £52 a week. “On a full week’s of lessons it would be £100 to £150.

“I charge £21 an hour but when you take road tax, maintenance and other costs out I’m earning about £5-£6 an hour.

“I remember petrol at £1 (a gallon).

“Now look at it. And cars take a hammering. Gears clunking, riding the clutch, heavy on brakes.

“My Ford Fiesta’s not old but by it’s had three new fuel pipes because they split when pupils stall.

“But it’s my passion, it means freedom, job mobility, independence for others. Nothing beats the satisfaction of another pass.”

The AA says that rising fuel prices are forcing more motorists off the road.

“But Blackpool Council’s Travel Blackpool team says it’s leading to more sustainable means of travel – walking, cycling, public transport.

“A new campaign is promoting personalised travel plans. Call (01253) 476630 or email travel.plans@blackpool.gov.uk for a route tailored to work or leisure requirements, taking into account location, work times, any mobility or allied issues.

A spokesman says cycle courses are regularly held for adults returning to cycling and lacking in confidence or bike skills.

Public transport tips are offered too. Then there’s a car share network. Travel Blackpool also encourages walk to school campaigns. Outside Anchorsholme Primary School one young mum admits: “The stop-start school run cost us money in petrol so we now set off earlier and walk. The result is we’re both healthier – myself and my son.”

Ward councillor Tony Williams reckons there’s another spin off – in support of The Gazette’s Shop Small campaign. “You can also save on travel costs including petrol by shopping locally.”

Half term heralded the usual hike in petrol prices – but prices have gone up by a further penny in the last week. It adds up to a surge of five pence a litre in one month.

Some call for a change in driver habits. At one of the busiest forecourts in town, Morrisons, Squires Gate, staff suggest motorists buy by the litre and not by the pound in order to benefit from point-scoring schemes and keep closer tabs of their fuel consumption.

Kevin Hinds, who runs Lytham-based limousine fleet Jet Set, says: “The price rise is horrific. In the last 12 months our fuel bill has increased from £30k to £50k. It makes it a balancing act between keeping it profitable but affordable.

“The fuel price affects everybody. We look at forecourt prices and shop accordingly, although we get better fuel consumption using Shell standard unleaded than a cheaper mix. We also use fuel point cards as well .”

At Blackpool and The Fylde College’s automotive department at Bispham head technician Mark Dawson urges adult learners to join his 10 week car maintenance courses in summer to learn more about keeping cars roadworthy – and fuel efficient.

He adds: “Check your tyres are at the right pressure – under inflated they can cause a real drag and fuel drain. Declutter your car of unnecessary weight. Don’t use your cars for short journeys, the first usage eats up fuel. And be frugal on the throttle. Consider diesel if you travel long distances. It costs more but you get a lot more motorway mileage.”