Truck­ing it right on road

The con­tri­bu­tion of trucks to road trans­porta­tion is enor­mous, as it links and fa­cil­i­tates pro­duc­tiv­ity for an op­ti­mal eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, says Su­mit Sharma, Co-founder of GoBOLT.

TravTalk - India - - GUEST COLUMN -

Truck­ing com­pa­nies have to op­er­ate with flex­i­bil­ity and agility to make their busi­ness more re­spon­sive in meet­ing their client’s needs

Road trans­porta­tion is one of the im­por­tant links that fa­cil­i­tates pro­duc­tiv­ity and com­pet­i­tive ef­fi­ciency, lead­ing to rapid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try. It also plays a key role in bring­ing about the de­vel­op­ment of the re­mote re­gions by open­ing them to trade and in­vest­ment and in­te­grat­ing them with the main­stream econ­omy. Con­sider what would hap­pen if ev­ery truck were pulled off the road? There would be a per­ish­able goods short­age within three days; drink­ing wa­ter would dis­ap­pear within two to four weeks. Food sup­plies in hos­pi­tals would be gone in 24 hours. ATMs would be empty in two to three days.

With­out a doubt, the sec­tor’s con­tri­bu­tion to the econ­omy is sig­nif­i­cant. There is hardly any busi­ness nowa­days that doesn’t rely on trucks to bring them ei­ther in­put into what they’re do­ing or their fi­nal prod­uct.

There would be job losses. While there is no of­fi­cial data, nearly 20 lakh ve­hi­cles or 10 per cent of the to­tal ve­hi­cle pop­u­la­tions are al­ways idle across the coun­try for want of driv­ers, say in­dus­try stake­hold­ers. This sec­tor pro­vides di­rect em­ploy­ment to nearly 1.2 crore and in­di­rectly up to 10 crore peo­ple. Ride Freigh’tly’

The high de­mand for truck driv­ers in the coun­try are also largely due to the lop­sided man­ner in which freight moves here. The near-ab­sence of wa­ter­ways or air cargo means rail­ways and roads haul ma­jor­ity of the goods in In­dia. Even then, there is a bias to­wards roads in the re­cent past. At the time of In­de­pen­dence, nearly 90 per cent of the freight in In­dia was trans­ported by rail­ways, which re­mained the prime source of freight trans­porta­tion till 1990/91. There­after, rapid ex­pan­sion of the road net­work and cre­ation of mul­ti­ple ex­press­ways cris-cross­ing the coun­try saw more and more freight be­ing hauled through roads. The increasing short­age of driv­ers in the past 25 years is a pointer to­wards the same trend. In 2015/16, an es­ti­mated 65 per cent of the coun­try’s freight was trans­ported through 4.7 mil­lion km of road.

Glob­ally, road freight is con­sid­ered the most in­ef­fi­cient and ex­pen­sive mode of freight haulage. It is more time-con­sum­ing, prone to dam­ages and at the mercy of ex­ter­nal fac­tors. The In­dian road­ways in­dus­try is also par­tic­u­larly poor when judged against global stan­dards. On av­er­age, the speed of a truck in In­dia is a mere 30-40 kph that en­ables it to tra­verse 250-300 kpl. Glob­ally, the av­er­age speed of any truck is much higher at nearly 60-80 kph, which means it cov­ers nearly dou­ble the dis­tance in In­dia per day.

In­dia spends al­most 13 per cent of its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) on trans­porta­tion, ware­hous­ing and lo­gis­tics. This is much higher than other de­vel­op­ing economies such as Brazil, In­done­sia, Malaysia and de­vel­oped economies like the US, Ger­many, France and Ja­pan. The higher spend is on the back of equally high losses due to in­ef­fi­cien­cies es­ti­mated at a whop­ping $99 bil­lion, 4.3 per cent of GDP. Hic­cups in re­ten­tion of driv­ers

The truck in­dus­try, which is the back­bone of the trans­port sec­tor and the econ­omy, is in dire straits. There is enough cargo to carry but short­age of driv­ers has given a blow to this hugely un­or­gan­ised in­dus­try, which mainly con­sists of sin­gle ve­hi­cle op­er­a­tors.

The short­age of qual­i­fied driv­ers threat­ens the in­dus­try’s con­tin­ued growth. The chal­lenge for the in­dus­try is not only hir­ing enough pro­fes­sional driv­ers, but also re­tain­ing them. For many trans­porta­tion com­pa­nies, at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing driv­ers are the big­gest chal­lenges. Un­for­tu­nately, the truck driver short­age isn’t go­ing any­where. Many con­di­tions seem to con­spire against the in­dus­try is­sues such as an ag­ing work­force, high turnover due to a stronger econ­omy, in­creas­ingly strict hours of ser­vice reg­u­la­tions and more. Ad­di­tion­ally, pay in­creases in­sti­tuted dur­ing the eco­nomic down­turn only seem to in­crease turnover as driv­ers are too will­ing to switch to com­pa­nies with per­ceived bet­ter pay.

The driver short­age is a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge and one that con­tin­ues to be a top con­cern for the in­dus­try per­son­nel. In fact, 90 per­cent of trans­porters said they couldn’t find enough driv­ers who suc­cess­fully met the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion cri­te­ria. The driver short­age even threat­ens lo­gis­tics com­pa­nies’ abil­ity to com­pete. Im­pact on econ­omy

So, what does it take to make truck­ing a lu­cra­tive enough pro­fes­sion for prospec­tive job­seek­ers? Given the size of the road trans­porta­tion in­dus­try in the coun­try to­day - it ac­counts for 3.2 per cent of GDP, the im­por­tance of truck driv­ers can­not be over­stated. In the mean­time, the short­age is al­ready pinch­ing with the eco­nomic loss es­ti­mated at al­most ` 4,20,000 crore due to trucks ly­ing idle ev­ery year. It may be a tad be­lated, but the pri­vate sec­tor as well as the gov­ern­ment has be­gun to re­alise the need to take cor­rec­tive mea­sures. Many well-known com­pa­nies these days have started var­i­ous driver-train­ing schools, while big fleet own­ers have not only re­vised salaries but also started pro­vid­ing so­cial se­cu­rity safety net like prov­i­dent fund and in­sur­ance.

The cri­sis is fast ap­proach­ing its tip­ping point where the econ­omy will be­gin to stut­ter for lack of goods movers. The prob­lems, how­ever, are fun­da­men­tal and there is no easy so­lu­tion. Thrust in de­vel­op­ment of new roads has im­proved the turn­around time for each trip, but creat­ing in­fra­struc­ture for driv­ers along the high­ways and re­mov­ing red tapism in the reg­u­la­tion of the sec­tor is a long-drawn process. As­sim­i­lat­ing a truck driver into the broader so­ci­ety will take even a longer time. Ray of hope

Truck­ing com­pa­nies have to op­er­ate with flex­i­bil­ity and agility to make their busi­ness more re­spon­sive in meet­ing their client’s needs. Own­ing trans­porta­tion lo­gis­tics al­lows their or­gan­i­sa­tional ser­vices to de­liver an ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tion to the stake­hold­ers. It also helps them com­ply with the higher stan­dard re­quire­ment for a pro­fes­sional truck­ing com­pany. The stor­age of cargo and their safe de­liv­ery to the points of desti­na­tions are mon­i­tored by the per­son­nel while cut­ting down costs in the dis­tri­bu­tion process.

De­liv­ery sched­ules are pro­cessed smoothly with­out com­pro­mis­ing the avail­abil­ity of trucks and truck driv­ers. With timely and safe de­liv­ery of goods, truck­ing com­pa­nies can en­hance its ser­vices and prof­itabil­ity over time. Us­ing lo­gis­tic so­lu­tions pro­vides for an or­gan­ised stream­lin­ing process of your hu­man re­source, rou­tine plans, and fleet avail­abil­ity main­te­nance, data man­age­ment needed for keep­ing your op­er­a­tion ag­ile, trans­par­ent and ef­fi­cient. The em­ploy­ment of lo­gis­tics so­lu­tion makes the truck­ing busi­ness highly op­er­a­tional with less man­power re­quired and less ex­pen­sive tech­nol­ogy to use as util­ity in keep­ing track of the over­all busi­ness op­er­a­tions. Con­clu­sion

Truck driv­ers are the most crit­i­cal play­ers, form­ing the hu­man back­bone of this in­dus­try. Poor de­sign and main­te­nance of the In­dian roads add to prob­lems of health and safety. In spite of this, they are paid poorly and not sur­pris­ingly there is a grow­ing short­age of driv­ers. There is both a sta­tus and a skill gap among driv­ers. (The views ex­pressed are solely of the au­thor. The pub­li­ca­tion may or may not sub­scribe to the same.)

Su­mit Sharma The au­thor is Co-founder of GoBOLT, Next Gen Tech-Lo­gis­tics Com­pany based in Delhi NCR

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