VTA survey highlights crippling compliance for road freight industry

Excessive compliance measures, vaccine mandates for freight workers and antiquated licencing structures are weighing down road transport operators, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Victorian Transport Association (VTA).

The VTA consulted more than 75 small, medium and large operators carrying freight ranging from chemicals and fuel, construction goods, agricultural, food, groceries and general merchandise about a range of issues that emerged during the pandemic to help understand how regulatory adjustments might assist an industry trying to overcome massive supply chain pressures through the Christmas and beyond.

The survey results reaffirmed the industry’s concerns over driver supply and a government system that restricts the industry from attracting young people.

Some of the survey findings included:

  • 84 per cent of operators said Covid restrictions had negatively impacted their business;
  • 62 per cent of operators have lost an average of 4 per cent of their drivers because of mandatory vaccinations (with one operator surveyed losing half his drivers);
  • A massive 95 per cent of operators are experiencing a shortage of drivers, with nearly 1,800 vacancies in the responding companies alone.
  • 90 per cent of operators said they would support regulatory changes enabling 18-year-olds to be trained to attain a heavy vehicle licence.

VTA CEO Peter Anderson said that unless action was taken to help industry attract new drivers, supply chains would continue to be vulnerable, putting upward pressure on consumer costs.

“When 95 per cent of operators say they can’t find enough drivers, it confirms more needs to be done by governments in partnership with industry to recruit people,” said Anderson.

“Victoria’s heavy vehicle licencing system is broken and we need urgent action to attract young people to our rapidly ageing profession. Nine in 10 operators said they would support a licencing regime that would professionally train and employ 18-year-old school leavers to drive a heavy vehicle. The government must act on this information, or the shortage will get worse as older drivers retire, with the inevitable consequences being higher consumer prices at the till.

“If you can pilot a plane at 16 and fight in the armed forces overseas at 18, there’s no reason an 18-year-old couldn’t be trusted behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle after extensive training and instruction.”

Freestone’s Transport Managing Director Paul Freestone says the labour shortage is the worst he’s seen in his 50 years in transport.

“Fuel and labour are the biggest costs for operators and if we don’t increase our pool of drivers costs will increase extraordinarily,” Freestone said.

The survey also queried respondents about their environmental policies at a time when the national conversation about emissions reductions is fever-pitched. Three-quarters (76 per cent) of operators have an environmental policy in their business and 82 per cent would support regulatory changes to encourage low emission heavy vehicles.

“The quickest way to reduce heavy vehicle emissions is to incentivise operators to replace their fleets with vehicles that have lower emitting Euro 5 and 6 engines,” said Anderson.

Survey respondents were also queried over the three biggest issues they would face next year with labour availability (96 per cent), costs and rates management (62 per cent) and fuel pricing (50 per cent) the most pressing for freight operators.

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