Remain Vigilant

Get Smart

Just like the 1960s TV comedy created by Mel Brooks, the trucking industry need to ‘Get Smart’ about the media and its dealings with our industry and its people. There are plenty of agendas out there, and pretty much every single one of them is anti-truck.

 

The agendas are characterised as being anti-truck, but from the point of view of those involved in trucking, the agenda seems to be anti-trucking, against the people of the industry and the job they do.

 

We can’t go out there and go knocking door to door talking to the general public to convince them the trucking industry is populated by nice people just like them, this is the 21st century. Perceptions these days are developed and created by the media people consume, whether it’s social media or the more traditional kind.

 

So, the answer is easy, get into the media, engage with everyone online, and get the message out there – we are not all evil, drug taking, polluting and aggressive. The optimistic view of the world would be to try and appear in the media and show a good public face often enough and the incremental process of changing the hearts and the minds of the general population, one by one, will get there in the end.

 

Not gonna happen! At the core of the fear and loathing of trucks and trucking is something much more visceral, a fear going back to ancient times which is more like instinct for many people. It is in using this basic discomfort, which the usual beat-up of truckies on shows like A Current Affair creates its impact.

 

Trucks are big, very big, and loud too. Ancient man, hunting on the plains of the ancient world learnt to stay out of the way of the mammoths that roamed there. They were to be feared. Then the hunters learned to cooperate, working in a group to follow, surround and spear the mammoth, bring it down and eat it.

 

Standing on a suburban pavement with a toddler and a stroller, a truck passing by can be pretty daunting. There is an immediate increase in anxiety, just from the sheer size of the thing, coming from an instinctive response. It is this initial response on which the media attitude to trucking feeds.

 

The general media know there is this element of fear, so it’s really easy to use this in a sensational story and pull in the viewers, using trucking as the big bad baddie. TV and mass media journalists don’t necessarily have a dislike of trucking, but they know a good button to push when they see one and terms like ‘monster trucks’ are hot buttons, which elicit an immediate visceral reaction.

 

How do we get over this? How can we stop this instinctive reaction? We can’t change history, we can’t make the trucks smaller. We can engage better with our community on every level. There are going to be a lot more trucks on the road in the next 30 years the trucking community has to actually work on its image, and work on it professionally, not in a series piecemeal, but limited, initiatives.

A New Perspective on Trucking

Sometimes we are too close to our own industry – we need a new perspective on trucking. In its submission to the Inquiry into National Freight and Supply Chain Priorities, the Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has come up with an interesting comparison. It is looking at the freight industry from the consumer’s point of view, in the same way as it perceives the energy industry. Read more

Remain Vigilant

Second-Class Tax System

Yet again the trucking industry is the victim of our second-class tax system, after the Australian Tax Office (ATO) messed it up again. Unfortunately, this unfair decision on driver expenses is merely a symptom of a disease which is apparent throughout those who make up the rules (as they go along, it would seem).

 

Where do they get off, reckoning a ‘truckie’ can only claim $55.30 a day in expenses, while others can claim almost twice as much, up to $109.35? Not only that, but the new amount has been cut down from over $97. Has the food in truck stops suddenly dropped in price?

 

Clearly, it is more expensive, year on year, living on the road and working there. There must be a reason for halving the expenses allowance. Perhaps, the ATO reckons all of the truckies are rorting the system and claiming maximum allowable expenses as compensation for low basic wages. That may be the case, but if so, the same would be true in other industries, where the economic pressures are just the same.

 

According to Geoff Crouch, Australian Trucking Association (ATA) Chair, the ATO believes truckies are filling up on cheap junk food and fizzy drinks and, therefore, need their allowance reduced. Driver health and retention in our industry is bad enough now, we don’t need the ATO to incentivise a poor diet for truckies and increasing health problems.

 

In fact, we need the opposite. We need to incentivise someone to improve the quality and choice of food sold in outlets truckies can access. The truckie who wants to stay fit has very little choice. If they haven’t brought their entire diet with them, they have to park the truck in a location from which good food is inaccessible. At best, a healthy food outlet will be an expensive taxi ride away, but often it is 100km down the road, in a location where trucks aren’t allowed to park.

 

All of these issues illustrate a point which comes up time after time in places like this opinion column, namely, the total lack of respect for people working in the trucking industry which holds sway in government and in society as a whole.

 

Okay, sometimes those working on the coalface of the industry don’t help themselves in their dealings with others, but this is after a lifetime of being ignored. This latest snub by the ATO is just the latest in many decisions by people who know nothing, which affects the lives of those people who ensure those same ATO employees can buy breakfast cereal in the supermarket, get a latté at the café and buy their trendy clothes online.

 

Remain Vigilant

Education, Education, Education

If we want safer roads and a safer trucking industry, it’s all about education, education, education. There is a massive gap in understanding between those involved with trucks and those outside our industry, and it’s our job to bring them up to speed.

This week, long-time trucking industry campaigner, Rod Hannifey, identified three main issues. “Educate motorists about sharing the road with bigger trucks,” wrote Rod. “Fix the roads so they do not cause the damage to the trucks and drivers so we can do our job safer. And provide enough suitable and sufficient rest areas for all tired drivers.”

So, we need to educate the other drivers on the road about how to live with trucks – what they can and cannot do. Drivers have no understanding of what is a dangerous manoeuvre in front of a truck. They will cut in front, hang around alongside or accelerate as a truck overtakes, as part of their daily routine. They have no idea of the risks they are taking, sitting in the blind spot by the nearside drive axle and expecting the truck to both see them and be able to avoid running them over.

The potential dangers of drink driving, speeding, running red lights, etc., are all outlined and advertised. The basic rules cars should follow around trucks are never outlined; no one has any idea what they are.

At the same time, 93 per cent of all serious accidents involving a truck and a light vehicle are the fault of the light vehicle. In my opinion, ignorance of the rules should not be a defence in the case of an accident.

The condition of the roads is in no doubt. Inadequate maintenance of the current road stock and limited investment in new infrastructure has a cost, and that cost is not understood by the decision makers in power. The road conditions for trucks do contribute to both road accidents and adverse economic results.

I have witnessed a serious incident in which a truck rolled off a highway as a direct result of a dip in the road surface being allowed to develop after a bridge. Luckily, it ended in just a few cuts and bruises.

Any driver who has done a full shift on one of our rougher roads (there are plenty of candidates out there!) will tell you how knackered they feel at the end of the shift, just through the physical effort of keeping on the road and in the seat. A full shift on a smooth road feels like a relaxing day at a spa, in comparison.

At the end of this full shift on a bumpy road, where does our weary driver rest? Anywhere they can fit a truck, because road builders consistently fail to build enough parking areas for trucks. They clearly don’t know how many trucks park up on the roadside every night and that there are strict fatigue laws for truck drivers.

We need to bring the state and local road authorities up to speed on an issue they have ignored consistently, because there is little legal imperative for them to create ample parking capacity.

Trucking people everywhere need to consistently lobby for better education about many aspects of our job. Otherwise, the situation will get worse and when it does all go wrong, it will be the truckie’s fault.

Remain Vigilant

Throwing Out the Baby

The well-worn expression telling us to avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water has never been more relevant to the trucking industry than it is today. We have moved into the 21st century, and the old ways of doing things are no longer possible. There has to be a culture of safety and accountability throughout the industry sector, but let’s not let all of the past behaviours get thrown out.

 

One of the reasons many people stay in the trucking industry for so long is not because they are getting well paid or have a cushy job, it’s because they are a member of a community. When I joined the community back in 1977, there were plenty of things wrong with the industry and some of the work practices we used would get you shot in the current climate.

 

Nevertheless, the community spirit was there and once you proved yourself capable or willing, or both, there was an acceptance and a fellowship which came along with it. This fellowship took the form of someone pulling up and jumping on the bar to help shift a sticky wheel nut, or holding the corner of the tarp on a windy day until it was secure.

 

This also happened at the business level. Yes, there are always cutthroat deals going on and some crazy undercutting when times are tough, but there is a certain – unwritten – code and if you break the rules, forgiveness is hard to find.

 

Rose-tinted spectacles and the candy-coated memories of a truckie past his prime? Perhaps, but the code is still out there, it can be heard every night in the common courtesies on the UHF radio between drivers all trying to get the job done and home safe. It is there in the tireless work of many individuals running convoys and truck shows with a community spirit and charitable intent, which is highly commendable.

 

The 21st-century world is a lot more cynical and there is a much more self-centred philosophy prevalent throughout society. Even though society has changed and individuals are more litigious and happy to blame others for issues, there are still some charitable and gallant instincts remaining strong and vibrant in the trucking community.

 

We have to be careful we don’t lose this; it’s one of the things which make working in trucking a bit special. We don’t have the luxury of hoards of young people banging on the doors trying to get into the industry.

 

We need every able body we can get, as all of these rose-tinted spectacle–wearing, ageing truckies drop off the perch. We need anyone who has felt rejected in broader society, or is a bit of an outsider, uncomfortable in less-welcoming professions, to feel welcomed into a real community.

 

There is room for some real human warmth, even in the non-stop, over regulated, productivity- and safety-driven modern industry we now inhabit. If we don’t keep some of those older values we are just the same as every other industry and will continue to lose the battle to get more young talent working in trucking.

Remain Vigilant

Many Lost Voices

Quite often in these columns, Diesel News is trying to speak for the many lost voices in the trucking industry. There is an issue of representation in the industry which needs to be addressed, but is unlikely to be on anyone’s radar and, if it is, it just gets put into the too-hard basket.

Time after time a problem appears that will profoundly affect the trucking industry. The government, police or other agencies look to meet representatives of the mass of the trucking industry and there are plenty who are willing to give them an opinion and a possible solution, but how much of the industry do they represent?

First of all there are the big boys, who are at the kind of corporate size to need advisors, lobbyists and other public representatives to enable them to do business as they would like. This is fair enough, several companies run thousands of trucks across the country, control many assets used in road transport and have a legitimate right to be heard when an issue affects them and their wellbeing.

On the next wrung of the ladder are the medium-sized fleets who number in the hundreds across the country. It could be thousands – it depends on your definition of medium-sized. These are big enough to have a sizeable management structure, but lack the scale to run some form of public relations department. These companies are often active in industry associations around the country, spend time and money giving to the association and in return get some real representation both at local, state and federal levels.

Then there are smaller, small- to medium-sized operators, who do also engage in things like associations and action groups, but, often, are only able to engage with the issues at a limited level – the people in charge are too busy running the business and keeping the wheels turning.

Further down the food chain we come to the small operators, who may run one truck or a small fleet and almost certainly sub-contract a lot of their work from the bigger boys. Again there are some of these people closely involved in the industry politics and associations, but not in big numbers.

The issue can be seen when we start to talk about the numbers. One of the figures bandied about tells us there are over 30,000 trucking businesses around the country. That’s a lot of separate businesses, especially when you realise a small group of big companies probably control over three-quarters of the road transport market.

Tot up all of those involved in the various state-based and industry sector–based associations and you come up with a number that is a tiny proportion of the number of individual trucking operations active in the country. This leaves a massive number of people with no real representation and often starved of real information.

One of the few conduits to get the genuine story out there is something like Facebook. When the proverbial hit the fan during the RSRT controversy, I sat in a room full of concerned, but ill-informed, trucking folk, who wanted to know just what the hell was going on, and what they could do about it. The first many of them had heard of the whole RSRT debate was when it appeared on their Facebook timeline, when their friends discussed it.

There were voices of reason in the room, the small proportion who do engage and keep up with the issues, but many were frustrated and angry, mainly because they didn’t know in time and were dumped in the middle of a crisis, and these were those who had heard there was a meeting going on. There were others at the meeting who held extreme views and were using the confusion to put out some pretty unhelpful views.

This is the problem, there are many lost voices out there and they are not getting the right information. They feel no connection with the well-meaning associations purporting to represent them and can fall foul of those with extreme agendas. We need to include these lost voices and do everything we can to ensure full information and reason shape the future of trucking.

Sensible Car Drivers?

Is it too much to ask for the trucking industry to be able to deal with sensible car drivers? The biggest risk to safety on our highways is those people driving cars. They are the least observant, most likely to speed and prone to fatigue-related crashes, especially around holiday time.

Car drivers are the bane of the truckie’s life, lacking any kind of consideration for truck drivers and manoeuvring dangerously around them. If there is one thing we need to fix to improve road safety it is the standard of car driving.

The biggest problem is the lack of knowledge in the car driving community about trucks, the way they perform and what they can and cannot do. Car drivers tend to exhibit fear around trucks and will tend to panic if the truck does anything they don’t understand. Read more

Remain Vigilant

This Is The Modern World

We may like to indulge in nostalgia in the trucking world, but this is the modern world we are talking about. Sometimes it is difficult to separate the real facts from the myths and legends in this industry.

 

What we do know is thirty or forty years ago, there were a lot of rogues in the industry. The boundaries of possibilities were stretched to breaking point on a regular basis until it became normal practice.

 

In fact, anyone working in the trucking industry was putting their life on the line every night, out on the major highways. What was going on out there has been passed down to us in the stories told by those who lived it, or thought they did. Some of the stuff makes your hair stand on end and is unthinkable today.

 

However, look around the industry today and there are still plenty of rogues, but most of them are now reformed rogues, who have seen the light, got with the program and try to run a clean and safe operation. They have woken up to the modern world and realised the error of their ways from when they were young and wild.

 

This is not to say the wild rogue days are completely gone. There will always be folk who seem driven to break the rules, just for the sake of breaking them. However, for the reformed rogue it is simply a matter of doing their best to do the right thing.

 

The important factor in all of this is the passion which is carried over into the modern way of working. These people were passionate about their trucks and trucking. This meant they often didn’t see just how far outside of legal behaviour they were pushing themselves. They just wanted to get the job done as fast and as heavy as they could get away with.

 

The trucking industry is going to be fine as long as that passion doesn’t go away, but this is the modern world we’re talking about. Passion now needs to be about everyone coming home safe every day, about being the responsible citizen and positively effecting safety throughout a trucking operation.

 

Sometimes this modern stuff all seems to go too far and anyone with a longish memory can remember when they could get away with a bit of risky behaviour and it was all okay. Well, it’s not okay anymore. The risks are higher and the consequences much, much worse, both legally and physically.

 

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing and those stories from the old days are great, but when we imagine our modern selves in those situations it sends a shudder down the spine, or it should!

 

Remain Vigilant

Waiting for the Big Bang

The trucking industry may be sitting around waiting for the big bang, when all of the proposed reforms come together and we enter into some form of nirvana and all of our petty problems have gone away. They are in for a long wait.

 

This is the real world, it is not a single problem solving solution we are going to get, but, hopefully a process of changing the environment in which we work to improve the situation to move slowly towards consistent regulatory enforcement, improving productivity outcomes and an overall improvement in safety outcomes.

 

Any progress is not going to happen on its own. The cumbersome government system we are dealing with is consistent in only one regard, its inconsistency. Those involved in the process need to have constant pressure pushing them in one direction just to make any sort of progress. They may understand the need for change and empathise with the trucking industry, but if we are not always vociferous about what we need to change, they do not have the ammunition to fight the fight for us.

 

At the same time, the other elements of supply chain, who we deal with as suppliers, clients or partners, are in the game to improve their outcomes not ours. These are often large powerful corporations which are used to calling the shots.

 

A good example of how these entities think is the imposition by the stevedores of charges to trucking companies who are providing a service to them by hauling containers in and out of the shipping terminals. Another is the supermarket chains who are endlessly demanding of their transport suppliers, while cutting rates and playing firms off against each other, with minimal accountability.

 

At the same time, the vast majority of transport operations have a similar attitude to how they want to do business. They want to make money, but they also want to do it right and safely. This desire is often compromised by the pressures from both customers and regulators muddying the waters for them.

 

What do these large entities who are creating these issues for us understand? They understand strength and power. The trucking industry is as diverse as it is possible to be so, even though we have common problems, we do not come up with common solutions. However, the causes of our problems will not move if they are getting a series of diverse mixed messages.

 

The only thing that will keep up the pressure on both government and corporates is if we are all talking the same language. They need to hear the same basic message every time they interact with trucking. If the message is repeated enough times, it might get through to the real decision makers.

 

That’s how to do it. Now, all we need to do is work out what the message should be…

 

Remain Vigilant

Get Out and Shout

It’s time more people in the trucking industry decided to get out and shout about what is wrong with the world the trucking industry has to live in.

 

There is no room for shrinking violets, there are big decisions to be made and if the core of trucking doesn’t get its point across, someone else will.

 

This week the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) is calling out for people to make their opinions known at the upcoming ATA Conference in Darwin. The discussion in hand is the Territory’s trucking future and a rare opportunity for trucking people in a far-flung corner of our land to give the people at the top a flavour of what life is like for them and how it can be improved.

 

Trucking folk are not normally the type to get up and have a rant in a public forum like this, but maybe they should? Most people in the industry are publicity shy and unwilling to put their stronger feelings out there.

 

Instead, we sit and think conferences like Trucking Australia, or our local state events, are for the top end of town and the politicians. We allow problems to continue unchecked and remain frustrated at the lack of action.

 

It must also be said the representatives of governments and government agencies have been difficult to access from the small operator’s point of view. The industry associations, representing these folk have also been remiss in getting out there and really connecting with people who feel disenfranchised.

 

This has led to a massive divide between those in the know, whose feedback is listened to, and the great-unwashed masses in the trucking game who don’t put their head up above the parapet.

 

This year has seen a couple of organisations make a genuine effort to get the message out to people who are not normally involved, plus bring the feedback gained back into the policy development process.

 

The two exceptions have been the NHVR, with its ever-growing roadshow, going around the country trying to explain exactly what the changes to chain of responsibility rules mean for the truckie out on the road.

 

The second is NatRoad, who has realised it needs to get back in touch with its real grassroots. The history of the organisation is all about the impetus coming from the grassroots getting passed on up to direct communication with the government authorities. The series of forums going around the country should help the association become small fleet trucking’s true representative, like it has been in the past.

 

So, there is hope, but it still wouldn’t do any harm, if the vast majority of the trucking industry, who do keep their own counsel, got out there and shouted from the rooftops every now and then.