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.

Both industries are invisible to the end-user of our services, the not-so-humble consumer. What the industry does to supply their needs is not their concern or worry. The assumption is the light will go on when they flick a switch, there will not be a blackout unless there is a serious natural event like winds, storms or floods. The energy industry is taken as given.

In the same way, the consumer will order some goods online and expect them to turn up at their address when they are supposed and not a day later. Similarly, when they arrive at the supermarket, the shelves will be full of goods, there will not be a shortage of breakfast cereal or milk and there will be no huge jump in price unless a major natural event, like a cyclone, devastates the banana-growing industry, for example.

For the energy industry the problems have arrived at the consumer’s door. There have been outages in South Australia and massive price hikes across the country. The sleeping giant has been awoken, and the public wants someone’s head, or at least a cheap and consistent supply of electricity. Politics has entered the scene, and the energy industry is now a political football to be passed from one policy maker to another.

The consumer is calling for something to be done and the electricity companies themselves are seen to be to blame. In fact, it is an initial policy failure on the part of state governments that has set the ball rolling with an unclear future path for the energy industry leading to a reluctance to invest in infrastructure.

Now, let’s look at the trucking industry from this perspective. There is some realisation of the need for substantial infrastructure spending on roads, on the part of government. Whether it is enough is another matter. Major road infrastructure projects are sold to the public on their benefits to commuters and it’s all about reducing queues for car drivers. Improvements for the road freight industry only come as an afterthought or to pander to anti-truck campaigners.

Other improvements to productivity are hampered by government’s fear of a public reaction to large trucks on the road. This, despite the fact most members of the public do not register the fact there are larger combinations on the roads around them.

So, we have a piecemeal infrastructure investment policy and roads agencies hampering increased productivity in road freight. This, in the face of an economy starting to spark into life and a freight task that multiplies with any economic growth.

With such a diverse industry, we can’t predict how fast online shopping or urban road congestion will grow; we need to be working now for sensible investment and road policies. The trucking industry needs to ensure it doesn’t get punted into the naughty corner by our politicians, if cereal isn’t on the supermarket shelf, or if little Johnny’s new game controller is going to turn up late.