The UK government was quick to acknowledge the vital part trucking had to play in the health crisis that was unfolding before us, and took immediate measures to protect it, Diesel News’ European Correspondent, Will Shiers tells us.
In mid-March, as the UK went into lockdown, a temporary relaxation of European Union drivers’ hours rules was implemented. It applied to those vehicles involved in the delivery of food, non-food (personal care and household paper and cleaning) and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. The daily driving limit was increased from nine to 11 hours, while daily rest requirements were reduced from 11 to nine hours.
Although these changes hit the headlines, and helped to quell public fear, they weren’t that unusual. In fact, driver hour rules have been relaxed several times before, normally to assist in the movement of heating oil during adverse weather conditions or animal carcasses during foot and mouth outbreaks.
Bulk tipper operator Cullimore Group got some flack for operating its fleet. “Some people locally were vehement that everyone must stay at home and it is very easy for them to fire rockets at us from their laptops,” said Moreton Cullimore. “They couldn’t understand why we had construction trucks still on the road. We were still running some of our fleet because we had orders for aggregates and concrete from water works, sewage plants, roads, all those infrastructure works are still a necessity.”
Government stepped in on March 31, deeming all logistics as essential travel, and issuing a letter for drivers to carry. Now all the measures were in place for the industry to get on with the job of keeping society functioning, which it did, admirably. It even received frequent mentions of thanks from prime minister Boris Johnson and other senior ministers.
At the time of writing, lockdown measures are being relaxed, and life is going back to some sort of normality. The big question is, what can the industry gain from its new-found favour?
According to the Freight Transport Association (FTA)’s Logistics Skills Report 2019, the UK has a shortage of 59,000 drivers. With a significant number of trucks still off the road, this shortage has effectively disappeared for now, but presumably will return as the economy picks up.
However, Knowles believes that the public’s recognition that road haulage is a key industry, will help to attract some new blood. “We need to use this to our advantage now, and try to attract some younger drivers into the industry,” he comments.
This view is shared by the FTA’s director of policy Elizabeth de Jong. She says the industry has proved to be less prone to collapse than others, and suggests that this stability could act as a recruitment tool.
But the big question is, for how long will the industry’s popularity last? After all, the public has a very short memory about the vital part trucking had to play in the health crisis. Sadly, not much longer, according to most people I’ve spoken to.
“We have always been bloody heroes, but nobody notices until something like this happens,” says MA Ponsonby MD, Mike Ponsonby, summing up the views of many. “Suddenly they think all truckers are great, but it will soon be forgotten. We’ll soon go back to being public enemy number one.”
Low emission zones
At the start of the crisis, London Mayor Sadiq Khan temporarily halted the various congestion and emission zones that have been set-up in and around the capital city. It was a move welcomed by hauliers, many of whom believe they shouldn’t be paying the charges anyway. After all, it’s not like there’s a public transport alternative for delivering 20 tonnes of baked beans to supermarkets!
Scientists, who treated the lockdown as a huge experiment, reported a massive air pollution reduction throughout. In fact, London’s air quality improved so dramatically that machines measuring air pollution registered the low levels as a potential fault, and it is believed that the number of early deaths from lung and heart conditions have been reduced.
What makes this so interesting is that while private car, bus and taxi traffic dropped off a cliff, the reduction in truck journeys was estimated to be just 30 per cent less. So, with the realisation that trucks aren’t the problem, would this mean that that when the charging schemes were re-introduced, trucks would be exempt? Of course not!