Jul

It’s time to change tactics if we want to win the game

2011-07-01 21:15
Patrick O'Leary - Publisher/Managing Editor

Listen up ya’awl. Doesn’t that get up your nose when you hear it on American baseball type movies? The team is lagging far behind and they need a huge wake-up call from the coach to prevent them losing that vital game. He gathers them in a circle, squeezes his way into the group, looks at each individual, takes a deep breath and shouts: “OK, listen up ya’awl!’ Huh! What else can they do but listen?

He’s right there in among them. It’s sort of stating the obvious isn’t it? He then continues: “OK, we’˜re losing this game and we need to pick up. Tommy, I want you to stay up-front down the left side and wait for a long ball from Fred while Cliff takes the centre to offset a possible off bounce from the net.’ This may sound authoritative but I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about here. It just sounds like something a baseball coach might say. They then go back on the field – or court – and from trailing 66-3, go on to win the game with the ball falling into the net in the last few seconds of the game to put them 67-66 up. The crowd goes wild and the pom­pom girls do double back flips in celebration. From being in a position of losing the game, they end up winning.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what the FleetWatch Call to Action Day on August 19th is all about , transporters getting together to plan a way forward so that the transport industry can come away with some new tactics to win the game which, in the opinion of many – including mine – it is currently losing.

Certainly there are pockets of pure excellence out there but overall, this industry is floundering , and the good guys are sharing the roads with the wrecks. FleetWatch and its partners recently held another of our Brake & Tyre Watch exercises , this time in Johannesburg. Out of 24 trucks tested, 18 failed, some with the most horrendous faults you can imagine. Only three passed and three others were allowed to continue on their way but received fines for various faults found.

People find it hard to believe us when we tell them the condition of some of the trucks on our roads. It was thus I welcomed the presence at this exercise of Louis Malan who acted as an observer for the Institute of Road Transport Engineers.

Louis is now retried but has over 40 years experience in trucking having been manager of a truck fleet of over 1 000 vehicles. After a few hours, he came to me fuming: “I am so angry. I did not realise operators would let their trucks deteriorate to this extent. Something has to be done.’ For the first time ever, I saw Terence Bowren from Bridgestone, one of our foundation partners, lose his cool. He went up to the owner of one of the trucks who had arrived after his driver phoned him, looked him straight in the eye and said: “You should be in jail for allowing this mess to run on our roads.’ Need I say more?

Yet it’s not only the condition of the trucks that is contributing to the industry losing the game. There are a number of other ills plaguing the industry. Systems, procedures and policies which ensure Best Practise are hard to find. Just before we started the practical testing of trucks on the day, I was on the phone to John Robbie of Radio 702 who wanted to know why so many loads are falling off trucks. It’s almost a daily occurrence around Johannesburg and causes absolute havoc with the traffic flow. This, of course, does no good for the image of the industry showing it up as a pathetically unprofessional sector. There are many other problems , high accident rates; a shortage of drivers; driver fatigue; inconsiderate shippers manipulating the rates of one transporter against the other; potholed riddled roads damaging our trucks; corruption and more corruption that is taking business away from legitimate concerns and putting it in the hands of the inept; lack of effective law enforcement; rampant crime (one driver told me he and his driver colleagues are terrified of breaking down on the side of the road at night as the “criminals will kill us); the unlevelled playing fields between local and foreign hauliers; a moribund rail service , and so on, and so on, and so on.

And as if all this , plus more , were not enough, a political climate that is looking more and more shambolic and depressing as our President stays silent on the sidelines as destructive elements like ANCYL president (with a lower case ‘˜p’) Julius Malema shouts his mouth off with inane and damaging statements that are serving to destroy rather than build South Africa for all its citizens. There are big problems ahead on this front as foreign investors are already being scared off by this loud-mouth , and that, without doubt, will have a spin-off negative effect on the trucking industry. South Africa is losing its previous high standing in the international investment community and that will, in the long run, impact on your business.

It is for all these reasons that, like the basketball team that is losing, we have to get off the field for a moment and huddle together to address the issues and come up with new tactics that will turn the tide and enable us to win the game. The foundation of the Call to Action Day is built around road safety and standards and we will be tackling that head-on. However, as spelt out above, there are other issues to be addressed , and they must be confronted. This industry sector is just too precious and vital to South Africa to see it relegated to the Third League. It used to play up in the First League. It’s now playing in the Second League and if things don’t improve, it will be relegated to the Third League.

Exaggeration? Scare tactics? Not so. Many provincial roads have already been relegated way down to the Fourth League , and our First League players have to play on these uncared for and patchy fields making the game hard, unenjoyable and exposing the players to unnecessary injury. The other problem here is that the David Beckhams of trucking are playing on the same fields as a host of unknown old hacks with cronky knees and wobbly legs.

You can’t win the game that way. Things need to change. It’s time for a team talk. And that is what the FleetWatch Call to Action Day is all about on August 19th in Shongweni. Be there. Be part of it. If you haven’t registered yet, phone us on 011-794­2490 or email us at fleetwatch@pixie.co.za.

Phew! I’m sounding like that old Sun City advert. ‘˜Get there by car, by bus, by plane, by train , but get there!’ Yeah. It’s applicable. Thanks Sol! See ya’awl on the 19th at Shongweni.

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