With mounting pressure on a number of distribution operations, the Government has taken steps to ease the pressure on drivers and transport operations to make sure that the supplies that we all need continue to get through, writes John Kendall.
Basically the relaxation gives some stretch to daily, weekly and fortnightly drivers’ hours and lengthens the time available for driving between rest periods. “It is absolutely vital to get flexibility into the system so that the goods that we all need are delivered”, says RHA Director of Policy Duncan Buchanan. As the RHA has already stated, the organisation would prefer if the relaxation had applied to all operators, not just those delivering essential items, “The reason for that is that in any given lorry, you don’t know how important the goods are that are in that lorry”, continues Buchanan, “You may have components that appear to be really mundane and really not important, but they get built into a ventilator.
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“The entire supply chain needs the maximum of flexibility. For instance, when we pushed for the London lorry control scheme to be suspended, that was all about creating the maximum resilience that is possible within the system.
“Rules that limit the way drivers can drive or the routeings or any of those things just get in the way. They actually affect your productivity and in the current circumstances, we need to maximise productivity of drivers, operators and their vehicles. Anything that gets in the way of that is a bad thing and anything that helps that is a good thing.
“We still have to work safely and it’s really, really important that drivers stick to whatever rules are in place. The relaxation is still a managed process, but only use the relaxation if you need to. This is not a target, it’s something to give flexibility and resilience in the system and nothing more.”
“The supply chain is under stress at the moment and it needs help in various places and there are various actions that we need Government to take”, says James Firth, Head of Road Freight Regulation Policy at the FTA. “The operator obviously still has a responsibility for road safety. We cannot have drivers driving while they are tired. The operator has a Duty of Care to the drivers and to the public at large in terms of road safety. It is not simply a carte blanche. These are important steps that can be taken, but we must never risk road safety when doing so.”
Does the FTA think that the relaxation of the rules has gone far enough? “You then lead on to the obvious question”, Firth continues, “If you are going to start picking off sectors, is there the risk that it adds to confusion about who’s in and who’s out and would the more straightforward response be to give the entire transport sector a relaxation, then everyone knows what we’re dealing with?
“This event is obvious unprecedented, he says, “We ‘ve been in that situation before when we’ve had snow and other weather issues and it has ended up being granted, but you know it will all be over in a few weeks. We do not know where the end of this is. It would be great if we could have a total relaxation across the industry, but if that were granted, when would it finish, how do you turn it off again? That is the problem that I know the Dept for Transport is grappling with at the moment.”
Cambridgeshire-based Knowles Transport is involved in food deliveries to supermarket regional distribution centres (RDCs) and managing director Alex Knowles told CM that he is expecting the company to be treated as a “key employee” regarding who can continue to work if the country is put into lock-down. “We’ve seen increased waiting times at the RDCs, so the relaxation is welcome. We have communicated the relaxation of the rules to the drivers and it is important that we told them what it is and what the statement is, but also it needs to be controlled. One of the key things we say to our drivers is that if they are going to use the relaxation, it has to be agreed with their transport manager.”
Knowles has set up a daily committee meeting with key managers to go through the changes as they happen and how they should respond to them.
“What I would call for is calm”, says Duncan Buchanan at the RHA, “There is enough stuff out there to actually keep everything going. I think the next stage is going to be one where we move from a partial lock-down situation into one where we can maintain commercial activity and public safety at the same time and that requires careful consideration.”