One thing’s for sure, we don’t need a time machine or even a crystal ball to see that the haulage industry of the future is to face more and more regulation and an ever-growing trend towards automation. There seems to be a determination among manufacturers and politicians to pursue driverless trucks. For the time being we can at least look back to significant events that have shaped our industry since 2014. If any issues dominate the period they are the ever worsening driver shortage; the growing problem of illegal immigrants; the search for alternative fuels to combat climate change, and last but not least, Brexit.
Perhaps the most serious of these was the driver shortage. Despite many initiatives the problem has continued to blight the industry. In 2015 statistics show that there were up to 60,000 unfilled vacancies and the average age of existing drivers was going up since there were very few youngsters interested in taking up the career. In 2015 the main industry trade body, the RHA, claimed that the driver shortage was becoming a threat to the UK economy. The problem was predicted to worsen as 35,000 HGV holders were due to retire over the coming few years. Typical of the recruiting initiatives was one in Hampshire where the RHA teamed up with Job Centre Plus to coax job seekers to find out what it was like to drive a truck.
Another scheme, sponsored by the government’s Business & Innovation Department entitled LGV Trailblazer offered apprenticeships. This was in response to a campaign by the RHA and FTA to try and alleviate the problem. Despite such efforts throughout the period, and indeed until now, the driver shortage shows no sign of improving and has got worse.
As recently as 2019 the RHA teamed up with the technology specialist Microlise to fund another scheme called The Road to Logistics aimed at getting more drivers behind the wheel. It specifically targeted the unemployed, ex-offenders and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The government was persuaded to pledge £1m towards the scheme and one successful trial conducted at HMP Sudbury saw 300 signed up.
One problem cited by the RHA was the high cost of training, pointing out that the average £3,000 cost was a barrier to anyone wishing to take up truck driving. They suggested that the government should invest up to £150m towards training new recruits. Maritime was one company to offer “on the job” training for young, inexperienced, newly qualified drivers. This plan was instigated in conjunction with Scania. A spokesperson explained that recruiting new drivers was becoming increasingly difficult since the introduction of the DCPC which took effect in September 2014. There was also more emphasis put on encouraging women into the industry. In an FTA poll it was found that less than 1% of drivers were women (2,200 out of 315,000) while a high proportion of women interviewed were keen to take up the profession.
The driver shortage was made worse by the number of existing drivers facing suspension for relatively minor speeding and hours offences. It was estimated that over 3,500 had been issued with bans between 2016 and 2019. In November 2017 changes had come into force that dealt an even bigger blow to drivers when the DVSA was given greater powers to fine drivers for hours offences.
Not only were drivers fined for an offence committed on the day but they could be fined for any similar offences that might have occurred during the previous 28 days. It was possible for the DVSA to issue fines up to £1,500 in a single roadside check and to impound the truck until the fines were paid. The law was also tightened up regarding the fortnightly 45 hour rest period which had to be taken away from the truck. Any driver infringing this rule could be fined up to £300.
At times it seemed that everything was geared against the haulage industry. London’s Ultra-low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was a typical example plus the Clean Air Zones (CAZs) that were springing up in various cities to combat air pollution. City mayors and councillors seemed to put much of the blame on trucks. In reality of course pollution caused by buses, vans, cars and taxis was as much to blame. Despite statistics showing that NOx emissions from trucks had reduced by around 50% since 2013, they were still made out to be the villains.
London mayor Sadiq Khan who took over from Boris Johnson in 2016 was even more determined to hit out at the industry. While the proposed ULEZ was due for introduction in August 2020 Khan wanted to bring it forward by about 18 months to April 2019. He also proposed a T-charge (T meaning toxic) of £100 a day on all trucks registered before 2014. Failure to pay meant heavy fines. The RHA expressed outrage at the proposals and claimed that Khan was intent on taxing hauliers off the roads of London. Despite opposition, the new ULEZ became effective from 8th April 2019.
Was there anything at all to smile about? Well, there were one or two minor but welcome measures introduced by the government like the raising of the speed limit in April 2015 to allow trucks to do 50mph on single carriageways and 56mph elsewhere (not Scotland!). Predictably anti-lorry group BRAKE immediately condemned the decision, claiming that it would only lead to more deaths.
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