As the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic breaks across South Africa, it is critical that the freight and logistics sector be kept functioning safely and effectively as it is the lifeblood of the country’s economy.
This is the message from Pierre Bruwer, MD of vehicle tracking and fleet intelligence company Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron. Bruwer points out that even in the depths of the Level-5 lockdown in 2020, the freight and logistics industry kept society supplied with the essential goods, medicines and healthcare products required to stay functioning.
“The road freight industry plays a massive role in supporting the supply chains that make modern life possible – whether by supplying wholesalers and bricks-and-mortar retailers or by supporting e-commerce and online shopping,” he says.
More than 70% of all freight moved in South Africa is transported by road and the sector employs more than 120 000 people.
“It’s critical that this vital industry be allowed to continue operating with as little interruption as possible. Its contribution is vital – not just economically but in the sense that road freight transport helps keep us all alive!”
Bruwer says the movements of large commercial fleets are already back to pre-Covid levels. However, looking at a large dataset of tracked vehicles over the past three years (pre-Covid, during Covid and recent), some interesting trip-behaviour differences become apparent.
Traffic in South African metros remains on average 20% below 2019 levels. While the period since lockdown level 1 has seen gradual, month-on-month increases, most movement still occurs mid-week, with little weekend congestion. This shows that people are still cautious and are staying close to home over weekends. Night and early-morning movement also remains low, with hourly traffic peaks still well below 2019 levels.
Bruwer has appealed to all road users to be more understanding about heavy-load freight hauliers and the pressures that long-distance truck drivers operate under.
“It can be inconvenient sharing roads with large, multi-axle vehicles but each time you see a truck on the road it is a good sign. It may slow you down for a little while but the freight industry moves the economy forward and truck drivers make huge sacrifices to keep us supplied,” he says.
Netstar commercial fleet customers continue to face the threat of crime. On a national level, truck hijackings rose by 24,6% year-on-year in 2021.
“The financial desperation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has been significant – and our data reflects that. On the roads, this is placing huge pressure on fleet operators and truck drivers,” says Bruwer.
He adds that in the face of all of this, Netstar is committed to supporting its fleet customers through its telematics and smart IoT technology.
“Our vehicle-tracking technology provides fleet-intelligence tools that allow customers to track their fleets in real time, set security alerts and to plot the safest, most efficient and cost-effective routes. We support the trucking industry and we encourage all stakeholders in the road-freight industry to do the same. That means all of us.”
Bruwer has called on all South Africans to support truckers and road-freight operators – on the roads and in the policy space. He says while it is critical for the country to institute Covid-19 regulations, it is equally critical to allow the wheels of the economy to keep turning.
“Every truck that safely brings products to market is supporting our economy and helping our recovery.”
Yes, YES! FleetWatch totally endorses Bruwer’s comments and especially now that President Ramaphosa has announced that the country is moving to Adjusted Level 4 lockdown as a means of containing the speed and scale of new infections.
As Bruwer says, when Level 5 lockdown was in place last year, it was the freight and logistics industry that kept society supplied with essential goods, medicines and healthcare products. Now that a harder lockdown is in place, this sector will once again rise to the occasion and for this, the industry needs full support from all quarters.