Home FleetWatch 2013 Comments by Patrick O'Leary The fable of a road transport owner

The fable of a road transport owner


I am giving up this month’s Editor’s Comment to a man in the industry who called me to submit a light-hearted article to highlight the very serious problems that exist in the industry due to the lack of the setting of standards by the authorities and the lack of minimum entry levels for new-comers. He has asked it to be credited to an “Anonymous Insider’- but he is well known to FleetWatch as a man heavily involved in the industry and one who cares about the health of the industry. Read it. It’s amusing but very insightful’¦. Patrick O’Leary.

So there I was sitting at my desk as an accounts clerk, checking and balancing the transporter’s accounts for my boss – in preparation for payment. Wow, it was tens of thousands of Rand and I could sniff an opportunity as the price per load seemed a lot. Man it was big bucks and I wanted in on this game! So I popped around for a chat to the transporter to sniff out how I could get onto this gravy train. He was a professional of many years standing and was more than open with me when I expressed an interest in going into road transport. He told me that road transport was a high risk, capital intensive venture – with a 50% failure rate. You had to have a passion – or diesel in your veins – and a touch of insanity to even consider it. Big rigs cost between R1,5 and R2-million each; diesel runs out at 50 to 60 litres per hundred kilometres travelled (R600-700 or R3 600 – R4 320 one way from Durban to the Reef), tyres at R4 500 each (or R99 000 per 22 wheeler rig) which last between six  to seven months with re-capping use of 1,5 sets per year. Tolls are R700 one way to the Reef. Licenses are R20 000 per year per rig. Then add driver costs per unit inclusive of Bargaining Council fees (R8 000 to R10 000) per month.

The above is just the vehicle and trip costs without the costs of the back up facilities such as yards, offices, workshops along with mechanical, yard, administration, management and marketing staff costs. Then add maintenance costs and spares, water, power, communications, insurance, security, driver training and safety etc. Returns, although large, were modest as a percentage and bottom-lines were always being squeezed as clients often went for the cheapest price. His parting words were: “If you want to make a small fortune in transport , start with a large one!’

I went away depressed , but not for long. “Ja bru,’ I thought. “Nice one , anything to keep the pie to yourself with horror stories.’ So I investigated what I needed to get started and was pleasantly surprised to find I needed only money , no training, qualifications or experience were required. Just buy a truck and trailer, get a driver and Bob’s your aunty – I am a road transporter offering my services to the marketplace. So a few days later, there I was at my local watering hole chatting to my china’s , many who were unemployed. One of them told me about a training school that could “guarantee’ a license for a couple of grand. The rig was small with a little load on the back and was easy to drive , and once the license was issued, the driver could drive a rig grossing 52 tons. A Public Driver Permit (PrDP) was also needed , but this was just a security check (police record) and general health and eye-sight check, limited to a minimum of 18 years of age for goods vehicles and 21 years of age for passenger vehicles. This is renewable every two years but the actual driver’s license was good for life , and renewed automatically with the PrDP with no further testing or training required. Further, another one told me that license fees could be “arranged’ at a lower cost by registering in another cheaper province with lower fees. His ‘˜cuzzie’ said I could make the tare weight lighter by saying the truck was 5 tons not 10 tons and the trailer was 3,5 tons not 8 tons , as the fees were based on tare weight! He forgot to mention that it was illegal as a vehicle cannot be partly licensed – but is classed as unlicensed.

Another ‘˜cuzzie’ said he could organise me rejected tyres at a good price while he could also organise fuel mixed with power paraffin (less taxes on it) so its cheaper. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention that both were illegal and further, that the engine runs hot so could fail , but that’s a story for another time. Even I knew, that COF/COR’s can be “organised’ , but did not know that any defect on a rig such as one bad tyre renders it totally unroadworthy. You would think that with a rig with 22 tyres that is nonsense and I further heard the ridiculous story that the late Chief Inspector of Provincial Police in KZN, John Schnell, said: “You cannot be half pregnant. You either legal or you not.’

This was now looking like a go project as far as I was concerned. So I chatted to my father-in-law who had his pension and told him we could make big bucks and his daughter’s happiness was important. Long story short – he bank-rolled me and I bought six rigs on auction for R250 000 each. Wow, I had six rigs for the cost of less than one new one. Yes, the vehicles were old (15 years with at least 800 000 kilometres on the clock) but I would only be doing 15 000 per month. (I forgot to multiply this by 12 months x 5 years or 500 000 kilometres). So I got my china’s to get their licenses at a small cost , shook a tree and a oke fell out with a spanner and greasy fingers-nails. He could fix anything with wire and string. I was ‘˜A for Away’.

As I did not know much about transport costing, I just cut the price of the transporter I had spoken to before by a grand and my company allocated me the work. In the first three months, it went well so I bought myself a serious set of wheels to style in the hood and announce my arrival as a larney. But the next three months were hell , blown motors, accidents and bad, bad service. Further, my insurance company refused to pay my accident claims and my company refused to pay the bills as they were not being paid. I lost my job because of this. My fuel and spares bill went through the roof and the bank re-po’ed my new wheels.

Needless to say, my wife and in-laws are not talking to me ( the fact that we are all in the same street might explain that) and my former china’s will no longer even buy a man a small dop. It’s looking like I have joined the 50% of transporters with broken dreams. The questions I am left to ponder on are: “Why, why did the Authorities make it just so easy for me to ruin my life? What other endeavour or profession can you just go into , without qualifications or even basic training? Why do clients not make sure their goods are being transported right , and not just look at the price for the job because for every transport cowboy on the road, someone is paying him to be there? Is it not time to hold the client responsible to ensure his goods are being transported responsibly?

I read a quote the other day from the same professional transporter I had spoken to that went something like this: “Before going into transport, invest a hundred bucks in a full length mirror. Then stand with your back to it and drop your pants and look between your legs at the mirror. That will be the cheapest way you will ever see your butt!

E’nuff said!

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