In the general climate of gloom, doom and declining standards that currently permeates the South African economy and society in general, the trucking industry continues to throw out rays of hope that with the right vision, attitude, determination and resolve, there is room for optimism. One might find this strange to say given that, according to the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI), August saw business confidence falling to its lowest level in more than 16 years. There are many reasons for this but SACCI puts it partly due to a subdued domestic economic performance and global financial market turmoil. On the global front, there are big things taking place, one being the slowdown in China’s growth and resultant negative impact on commodity prices. South Africa is particularly vulnerable to commodity price movements with our mines – one of the largest employer sectors in the country – being hard hit by the drop in demand. The ripple effects are multiple with transporters serving the mines already having felt the negative impact on their businesses. Then there is crime, the Eskom debacle, the exchange rate, the drought – and so it goes on…and on. And yet, despite all this, the trucking industry continues to plough ahead, not only to improve its own performance but also to continue serving the economy in the best way it can.
This came out clearly at the first AGM of the Road Transport Management System (RTMS) held in Johannesburg recently. Within that room were a group of people – pictured above – who are determined to improve standards in the industry and have put their total hearts into doing so. Their motivation is not a self-centred one – although every company which has been RTMS accredited has recorded all-round operational as well as bottom line improvements. However, it goes further than that. RTMS is also about improving road safety and on this front, companies have seen significant improvements in their road safety performance. This was spelt out at the AGM. In the owner driver fleet of Barloworld Logistics, for example, in just one year, a 66% reduction in the number of crashes was recorded. Vehicle Delivery Services saw a 42% reduction while the Electricity Support Services in the City of Cape Town recorded a 44% reduction in the number of crashes. There are many other examples.
This is stunning stuff and to realise the full significance of this, one need only go back to the road death statistics for the last Easter period which saw a 48,7% increase over the previous year with 208 crashes accounting for 287 deaths. On the general road safety front there is no improvement and I do not see any innovative campaigns emanating from Government to realistically impact on reducing the road carnage. The best the Minister of Transport has come up with is a proposal to park off trucks for six hours every day. This is knee-jerk reaction stuff that will never achieve the desired objective of the Minister, which she stated as being to reduce the road carnage. On the other hand, through its own voluntary efforts, the trucking industry – which is often maligned by so many as being an irresponsible bunch of road-hog hacks – is, through RTMS, achieving positive change on the road safety front. As Paul Nordengen, RTMS steering committee member and a man who has been a driving force behind RTMS, said at the AGM: “It is difficult to quantity how many lives have been saved through RTMS. But if someone asks have we saved lives, the answer is a definite Yes.” Consider this:
In 2007 there were 74 RTMS accredited vehicles. Now, as announced at the AGM, there are over 169 fleets – big and small – representing 8 550 vehicles that are running with RTMS accreditation. Certainly there are those companies within the industry which don’t give two hoots about standards – and the quicker they are out of here the better. However, I can positively state that, via the RTMS, the desire to improve is there and is gaining momentum. This is reason to applaud and encourage the industry rather than malign it. And please note that none of this has been forced on the industry. RTMS was introduced and has been driven by the trucking industry itself as a voluntary, self-regulation system. It is supported by but not mandated by the Department of Transport. So next time someone decries the trucking industry as being a villain, think of all this and defend it as an example for Government to follow.