When you have been in the trucking industry as long as I have, it is hard not to get bogged down in the doom and gloom surrounding our industry. There seems to be negatives on every side and almost insurmountable issues in the future. Every time we have got our hopes up in the expectation of a positive change, we only see them dashed. However, hope does spring eternal and there are some positive aspects of 2014 we can look forward to as an industry.
The economic indicators do seem to suggest an upturn in the fortunes of transport and logistics operators, according to the Commonwealth Bank’s Future Business Index. The report talks about a considerable increase in confidence among companies interviewed for the survey. The index went from a negative to a positive and transport and logistics was highlighted as a star performer.
One aspect of the increased confidence is the assurance respondents had about being able to handle fluctuations in the market. The industry has had a tough few years, recovering from oil price inflation only to be hit by reduced economic activity and a resources investment slowdown. These events are now embedded in the tribal memory of the trucking industry and survival strategies well worked out. We are better prepared for an oil price shock than we were in 2005/6.
The other reason for cautious optimism is the imminent, if delayed, birth of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. It has been a long time coming and has yet to prove its worth, but there is no denying a large amount of goodwill towards the NHVR, and its aims, exists throughout the trucking world. Even if the NHVR doesn’t fulfil all of its many promises, the situation with the new regime in place must be an improvement on what has gone before.
Admittedly there was great optimism when the Hawke Government announced the establishment of the National (Road) Transport Commission, and the NTC comes under a lot of criticism from all sides on a number of issues. However, thinking back over twenty-odd years, everyone in the industry would have to admit there have been some achievements.
Just the fact there have been people with a working knowledge of the transport industry in the room when policy has been formulated has had some beneficial effects. Hopefully, the NHVR should have a similar positive effect. The personnel recruited are practical, pragmatic and respected by the industry and, although they are likely to be hamstrung with bureaucratic red tape by a number of states, their heart seems to be in the right place.
There are rational reasons for optimism from a few more quarters. The Truck Industry Council is predicting higher truck sales in 2014 and the trailer manufacturers are making positive noises. These are both indicators of increasing confidence. Just the existence of the NHVR will mean permits should be easier to access and there is a helpline for the trucking industry, at the very least.
Even hardened cynics have to be positive sometimes and although any increase in fortunes is going to be hard fought, at least the opportunity seems to be there for the transport industry in 2014.