As the first UK COVID-19 deaths were reported, so panic buying ensued, so that video of the two Australian women fighting over a trolley full of toilet rolls was replicated all over the UK, and within days the supermarket shelves were stripped bare of anything you could eat or wipe your posterior with, reports Diesel News’ European Correspondent, Will Shiers.
Although I left it too late to do any panic buying myself, I will admit to bringing home a few extra copies of Commercial Motor magazine (the classified paper stock is particularly soft and absorbent!).
In March, annual truck tests were postponed, in order to keep trucks on the road. It was a necessity seeing as Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency staff had chosen to stay at home. Fortunately, truck manufacturer-employed technicians, had a different attitude, and dealer workshops remained open with social distancing measures in place.
MAN Truck & Bus UK MD Thomas Hemmerich, told me: “We run two shifts, and they don’t meet each other. As one shift leaves, the second shift wait in their cars while the building is deep-cleaned. We are so afraid of cross-contamination.” Such measures worked, and there have been no reports of any truck dealership workshops closing throughout the lockdown phase.
Seeing as the UK no longer has a truck manufacturing industry of its own (excepting a DAF assembly plant in Leyland, north west England), all of our spare parts come from continental Europe. This led to initial fears that the UK truck fleet would quickly be crippled by a lack of parts. But we needn’t have worried.
Fortunately, the seven major truck makers had all stock-piled spares in advance of Brexit, so parts warehouses were full. Also, as different industry sectors were hit harder than others, at least 30 per cent per cent of the UK truck fleet was temporarily parked-up, meaning there was less demand for spares anyway.
“Calls to DAFAid roadside assistance have fallen by 45 per cent this week, and call-outs are down by 30 per cent,” said DAF Trucks UK MD Laurence Drake at the end of March. “Clearly our stocks of parts will last longer with less vehicles to put them on.”
The government introduced its coronavirus job retention scheme, whereby it agreed to pay 80 per cent of furloughed employees’ salaries in order to protect them from redundancy. Take-up was high in some sectors, events haulage, car transporters and construction to name but a few.
Those drivers who remained on the road throughout, faced challenges of their own. With motorway services closing, hot food and drink quickly became rarer than rocking-horse manure. Even more of an issue was the growing number of companies that decided to close their toilets to delivery drivers, all in the name of helping to stop the spread of Covid-19. How directing them to a hedge, or a portable toilet with no hand washing facilities, was supposed to help the spread of the disease, is anyone’s guess!
But on the plus side, with less cars on the road, journey times were decreasing and roads were suddenly far more truck-friendly. According to telematics provider Microlise, during the lockdown truck fuel economy improved by up to 7 per cent, and over-speeding and harsh braking events both reduced by as much as 37 per cent.
Also, the public’s support for trucks was growing. Drivers were reporting a different attitude from the public, with more courteous waves, and even witnessing people displaying banners of support from motorway bridges.
Alex Knowles, MD of Cambridgeshire-based haulier Knowles Transport, said his drivers were reporting members of the public actually thanking them for the job they were doing.
Midlands-based haulier MA Ponsonby captured the mood perfectly with this tongue-in-cheek tweet: “Can I please remind the public not to kiss or touch any of our drivers? We understand truckers have become very sexy during this crisis, but the health of our fat, ugly and grumpy drivers is a priority during these tough times.”
Meanwhile, I interviewed the mother of five-year-old truck fan Jamie Luke, who was spending his days on a bridge over the M62 motorway, waving and showing his support to passing truck drivers. As a thank you, when things get back to normal, we have helped to arrange for him to have a ride in Transformers truck Optimus Prime (see photo).
But, despite the change in public attitude, still not everyone got it. While the public were ready to line the streets, and cheer the trucks carrying bog roll and pain killers, anything less obvious was dismissed as frivolous.
We had one report of a driver delivering a tractor to a farm, who was stopped by locals, who deemed it a non-essential journey. They clearly weren’t able to recognise the link between the food in the fields and that on their tables. This us brings us back to the ‘fighting over a trolley full of toilet rolls’ attitude.