Opinion

It’s starting to feel a lot like Groundhog Day

Here we go again! Time to take a serious look at some indisputable facts. Time to consider why we continue to find ourselves in the same place over and over as an industry. 

I’ve said more than once, pick up any old trucking mag from Razorback to now and the same issues are chewed over again and again.

Anyone with an ounce of common sense can see the issues and the solutions. But the solutions can’t happen because the real problem is the disparity in motivations of the players and their goals. I’m afraid we’re not all on the same page!

So where are we right now?

The NHVR grounded a couple of trucking companies due to fatigue and safety concerns [Ed’s note: these were quickly rescinded].

We’ve now seen the approval of Electronic Work Diary systems. Don’t doubt this will become mandatory.

We’re witnessing an increased push for all telematics from customers and others as if that will fix everything.

We’re seeing more imported drivers and yet driver shortages continue.

We’re seeing recruitment and retention issues in the long-distance sector because the day goes on but the pay doesn’t.

Austroads is kicking the can down the road yet again dragging the chain on its review. Another two years!

When I read the quotes from Austroads all I see are weasel words, spin and delay. There’s a national driver shortage. There’s been a shortage for years. There will continue to be a shortage. We have an ageing workforce in road transport, it’s not getting better. The freight task is growing year on year. Sooner or later common sense has to prevail.

I’ve pointed out over and over the difference in motivations and goals of the various groups involved in our industry. At the risk of appearing to be a broken record I’ll point out yet again the broad, brush motivations.

The customers want the best rate possible and their freight, no matter what it is, moved in a way and at a time that suits them.

The public want all this done in the safest way and with the least possible disruption to their life. The authorities have to respond to the wants of the public and be seen to act when things go wrong. Knee jerk public raids and blitzes follow every well publicised incident.

Then regulation screws down ever further so they can say “look we did something”.

The industry bodies lobby to influence the regulators for change beneficial to their members, but that may not benefit the industry as a whole. The major transport companies try to comply with all this while trying to carve out some sort of profit.

Meanwhile, the poor owner-driver and company drivers who make it all happen at the end of the day, have no power and no say but remain the low-hanging fruit getting abused by the customers by being forced to endure poor time management, being abused by the public for being in the traffic (while moving all the wants and needs!) abused by the councils who don’t provide adequate facilities, abused by the authorities with ridiculous laws and then financially smashed with outrageous fines.

Exploited by the likes of Transurban with excessive tolls while being stuck in car parks called motorways with the assistance of state governments who mandate use of this infrastructure or get fined! Finally getting blamed by everyone for everything while having no power to correct any of it!

I’ve taken an interest in the NHVR’s approach to the current situation grounding fleets with prohibition orders because it clearly demonstrates the point that motivations matter. I’ve looked at the bile and hate that’s been spewed on social media at those involved and their drivers.

Some private groups, and other not so private groups, where vile threats and stupid calls to interfere with trucks on the road have been made. I’m left to wonder if those posting this rubbish would do so if their family could see it?

I’ve spoken to drivers employed in these fleets. I contacted these fleets and offered them the opportunity to come on my On The Road podcast and talk about their situation on the show and to contribute to this piece. They declined the invitation and said they had no comment to make. I surmise that given the current situation they see no value in talking, they don’t appear to believe anyone will listen.

So what do we know? Looking at one of these businesses they have more than 100 prime movers and many more trailers.

We know they have millions of dollars’ worth of new and near new gear.  They have a maintenance program. There’s certainly nothing old or shabby I’ve seen out on the road.

They’re employing properly licensed drivers. They have depots to keep their equipment in. They have operations systems and oversight. What more can they do? Then let’s have an educated guess about what they do.

If they move 100 long distance trucks a night, then that’s 700 movements a week and that’s 36,000+ movements a year. If we extend that and estimate they do 800 kilometres per movement then that’s a whopping 29 million kilometres per year. How many incidents have they had?

I think if you think about the numbers and compare that with the number of actual incidents is someone making a mountain out of a molehill?

These fleets are just the current iteration of a trend that’s been going on in our industry for some time now.

Think about the history. Anyone whose been around for a while remembers the names Bunkers, Ruttley, Silk Logistics, Redstar, X Trans, to name but a few.

The business model seems to be we don’t have our own freight and we don’t tender for work. We buy or lease large numbers of prime movers and trailers. We employ what drivers we can and fill out the numbers with agency drivers as the need arises. We then do whatever we need to operationally to meet the demands of the prime contractors. These fleets are truck and driver providers. Nothing more.

The key thing to remember in all this is that these fleets, and those like them, exist because the freight is there to be moved. Because there’s profit to be made by doing this. They don’t exist in isolation. As they grow, they get tied to relationships that they need to continue to meet their operating costs. It’s an endless circle of dependency.

It’s a great deal for the prime contractors. They have no responsibilities for the equipment, no responsibility for driver recruiting, retention or pay rates. They’ve secured an arm’s length relationship with all that. Then when it goes sideways it’s all “we only ask for a truck. It’s their responsibility to make sure it’s all legal”.

Of course this works for a while until it all sours because it goes wrong one too many times. The prime contractors don’t even have to pay to clean the mess up on the side of the road. That’s all covered by insurance. They do stand there and look gravely concerned and I suppose they apologise to their customer that owned the freight.

The history is there if people care to look.

I invite anyone to contact me via my social media @theoztrucker on twitter, On The Road Podcast on Facebook or go to www.ontheroadpodcast.com.au to leave a comment, email me directly mike@ontheroadpodcast.com.au or call me on 0450314398.

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