Many midsize trucking operations are struggling with keeping transport operations ready for the future. A case in point is based in the the Wollongong/Port Kembla area, one of those which has been up against it in recent years. The decline of the steel industry and disappearance of manufacturing has had the effect of depressing the local economy.
This is the business environment in which regional carrier boss, Alan Ross, is trying to maintain a business started by his parents and which he hopes will eventually pass through to the next generation.
The business started back in 1975, at the time Alan was just 12 years old and the job of washing down the trucks was his responsibility. The freight the operation handled was typical of many of the operators in the area at the time, steel, tippers and coal. The natural ups and downs of the economy saw the emphasis move between the different applications, but work was consistent overall.
By the time Alan took over the business, following his parents divorce, the operation ran ten trucks and was growing into interstate work. The mix moved gradually over to interstate freight and local flat tops so that by 1989 the tipper fleet had gone. Coal transport had become high maintenance and was moving towards a 24 hours a day operation and was dropped.
Alan’s mother remains part of the team and is described by him as being the ‘backbone of the business’. She had always been involved in the business while holding down full time job, after 1989 she began to work full time.
At this point the fleet grew as the amount of interstate work available expanded. More trucks and trailers joined the fleet and the expansion continues. From the small local operation of those early years, there are now 57 trucks including 35 B-doubles and, in total, 120 trailers in the fleet, the vast majority of which are Freighter/Maxitrans trailers.
“We have 57 trucks now, but I was, originally, going for one for every year of my age,” said Alan. “I’m 54 now, but two years ago I decided to give that up. I wanted to get back to a situation where I could be happy, it was wearing me down. Now, I’ve gone to 57 trucks, the other way, because the market won’t let me sell trucks.
“I am not going to sell good equipment and good trailers for nothing, they will not give me enough. I’m sitting here with five spare sets of Freighter/Maxitrans tautliner trailers. They will probably get sent to the auctions in the next few months.”
The business remains diverse covering a lot of industry sectors. With over one hundred regular customers, the operation will handle goods from steel to bricks to general freight, working for the likes of Boral and Bluescope, but also smaller companies.
“We aren’t the primary contractor on many jobs now,” said Alan. “You see, a lot of the little mobs are closed, the ones I used to concentrate on. They didn’t mind paying a little bit more because of the service levels they received. A lot of them have shut down or moved overseas.”
The business employs about 80 people altogether. there are ten in the workshop, seven in administration as well as the 57 drivers. Each driver has their own truck and only they drive them. Alan reckons it is an efficient way to organise the fleet.
“We do not share trucks. I don’t believe we do it tough, because I pick up the costs in maintenance,” says Alan. “I pick it up in not paying owner drivers, I pick it up in a lower turnover of drivers. You really have to be on the ball to make it work.
“I won’t do changeovers, I refuse to do them. I think they are dangerous and encourage drivers to do the wrong thing. Everyone’s aware of the fatigue issues now, the smaller people are the ones who aren’t aware, but a lot of them are learning. I don’t find anyone a problem with a time slot change, as long as you are on the ball. We phone the driver and ask them what time suits them and it works. If you communicate and talk about it, it works.”