From a “disastrous” situation in the United Kingdom to “a complete mess” in India, truckers around the world are bracing for financial ruin amid the fight against COVID-19, according to industry leaders.
In interviews with Today’s Trucking, they spoke of a grim situation that transcends borders.
“It is a massive challenge. We have half of the U.K. fleet parked up and inactive,” said Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association (RHA), which represents British fleets.
There are about 520,000 trucks in the country, and 98% of everything Britons get comes from the back of the truck, he said.
“We’ve got 25% of drivers not able to work one way or another… The situation in the U.K. in regard to road haulage is disastrous, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises,” which is the reason that companies work on profit margins of 1% to 3%, and the cash flow has dried up, according to McKenzie.
“They are facing financial ruin.” The U.K. has about 300,000 truck drivers.
Asked about the most pressing issue bothering him now, McKenzie said, “Cash.”
“We have poor cash flow. We have low margins. This is a terrible situation, and many, many companies are looking down the barrel.”
Like in North America, he said, drivers in the U.K. had also been facing problems with truck stops, but those issues have now been resolved, thanks to his group’s campaigning.
European Union Imposes Border Restrictions
Britain’s former European Union partners are also in dire straits, with Italy, Spain, and France alone reporting more than 40,000 COVID-19 deaths.
In a frantic effort to stop the spread of the virus, some of EU’s 27 member states have imposed unilateral border restrictions, worsening the situation for drivers, said Marco Digioia, secretary general of the European Road Haulers Association (UETR). EU citizens have been enjoying barrier-free travel until COVID-19 struck.
“What we see is that several members have reintroduced border checks. We need to make sure that the measures are proportional, transparent and nondiscriminatory,” said Digioia.
His association, based in Brussels, Belgium, represents the European haulage sector, which employs some three million people.
“We need a coordinated and harmonized approach on checks and other restrictive measures,” Digioia aid.
Another problem, he said, is that many drivers are unable to renew their permits because of COVID-19 restrictions. He said UETR has urged the EU to extend the validity of the cards so that the drivers can continue to deliver essential supplies.
Digioia is also expecting the EU to unveil an aid package for the sector, especially to help small- and medium-sized companies. Under EU laws, member states can offer what is known as State Aid, but that is fraught with problems.
Digioia said many rest areas across Europe have been closed to due COVID-19, and truckers are facing real hardship. On top of that, there is a severe shortage of safe parking spots across the region.
“We are doing our best. We hope the EU institutions will also do their part (to keep the trucks rolling),” Digioia said.
350,000 Trucks Stranded Across India
“It’s a complete mess.”
That is how Kultaran Singh Atwal, president of All India Motor Transport Congress, would describe the situation in his country following the imposition of a nationwide lockdown two weeks ago.
Atwal said when the lockdown went into effect March 25, truckers were stopped throughout India, forcing them to abandon their vehicles and go home.
With 20 million drivers and 10 million commercial vehicles, India relies on trucking to move nearly 65% of its freight.
“Now the situation is very bad. Only 10% of the vehicles are on the road. I think they will also stop if the situation continues like this,” Atwal said.
“Because of the lockdown, no industry is working, no factory is running and no consignment is ready for the truckers.”
But the biggest problem the drivers are facing is that no workers are available to load or unload even the essential supplies as people follow government orders to stay home. Atwal cited a report, which said some 350,000 trucks carrying goods worth hundreds of millions of dollars are stranded across India.
Truckers in India have also long relied on dhabas, or roadside restaurants which serve as truck stops, for food and washroom facilities.
With the closure of the dhabas, they have nowhere to turn to, Atwal said.
“Our drivers are hungry. They have no food, no rest houses, no water. So many of them have left their vehicles (on the road) and returned home.”
Australia: Campaign to Keep Restroom/Washroom Facilities Open
The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) is lobbying for better payment terms for the industry as the sector goes through a tough period, said CEO Ben Maguire. Australia has about 200,000 drivers and 50,000 business operators, a significant part of them companies with one to five trucks.
“We’re advocating for the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments to be made available to trucking companies,” Maguire said referring to COVID-19 stimulus packages announced by the Australian government.
Under the JobKeeper package, qualifying employers will receive a $3,000 payment per month per employee for six months. JobSeeker allowances are available to people looking for work.
Maguire said ATA had also been lobbying for instant asset write-offs so that people who own trucks can be motivated to go and buy new equipment.
Asked whether access to truck stops was an issue in Australia, he said, “There is a significant campaign running to keep restroom and washroom facilities open for drivers and that’s not just at the roadside, but also with our distribution centers and customers.”
He said his organization is working to ensure that drivers have all the protective equipment they need to make safe deliveries.
“If we get into another stage of lockdown, then I would think that we’ll be pushing for getting drivers access to some sort of roadside support from the military, if they can provide services for washrooms and things like that,” Maguire said.
Abdul Latheef is Associate Editor, Today's Trucking and www.trucknews.com, where this article originally appeared, and was used with permission from Newcom Media as part of a cooperative editorial agreement.