Trucks drive the South African economy and if our politicians really have the interests of South Africa at heart, then it is well over-due that road transport be placed as a leading item on their agendas. That’s the strong message Paul Nordengen delivered at a FleetWatch ‘˜Brake & Tyre Watch’ training session in KwaZulu-Natal at the end of 2010. Dave Scott reports.
South Africa’s economy relies on mobility every day. And it’s the road network that carries the productivity that makes up our GDP. What makes it more complex and critical is that South Africa’s industrial heartland is in Gauteng, 600km from the biggest port, Durban. Just travel the N3 and you will soon see how trucks are driving the economy.
Given this, a poor road safety record amounts to serious losses and drags on our economy and the environment. Road deaths alone are estimated to cost R18-billion and if one adds up damage, injuries plus all the other incidentals accruing from 900 000 collisions per year, then easily over R50-billion gets wiped off our GDP every year. And it all happens on the road.
There’s no better person to evangelise the strategic importance of road freight transport to South Africa than Paul Nordengen who, as past president of the South African Road Federation, was elected in March 2010 to the position of President: International Forum for Road Transport Technology. Nordengen has sufficient objective authority and international perspective to present the way things are on South African roads , and he did just that at the training sessions.
Let’s be honest. Road deaths are boring. Apparently Lee Iaccoca said it: “Safety doesn’t sell’. But when one looks at South Africa in an international context, benchmarked from a 2002 heavy vehicle safety report , road deaths per 100 million km travelled , then surely the alarm bells must ring at the highest level? (See Table 1 on previous page).
Zoning in on the trucking industry, Nordengen presents a chart of a study done between 2001 to 2008 showing statistics on heavy vehicle fatal crash rates per 100 million vehicle kilometers travelled. It was based on an OECD study in which he was involved and is not a pretty picture for South Africa which far outstrips the other countries in terms of the number of accidents recorded. (See chart Heavy Vehicle Fatal Crash rates).
Without a budget, nothing will ever happen and insufficient budget is also a problem because road deterioration has a rapid, spiraling effect. Road damage does not chart itself on a straight line scale. Rather, it has a compounding effect. Nordengen presented a few hard facts on this. (See Table 2)
Nordengen pointed out that there are different estimates with regards to the road maintenance backlog in South Africa but he chose the results from the 2008 AA report as he regards the estimates as fairly accurate. Other estimates may be less but they would typically exclude the maintenance backlog for gravel roads – a huge network in SA.
But what is the role of road freight transport in the South African economy? The accompanying chart shows a growing role for trucking and how this is outstripping the road network. This does not even reflect a 32% increase in road freight since 2000. (See Table 3)
Given all this, it stands to reason that all the ‘˜chat’ around reviving the rail network will only serve to make us uncompetitive and lose more jobs. Rail cannot offer flexibility or Just-in-Time deliveries. Nor can rail avoid double-handling. There are sound and good reasons why business looks to road transport for logistical support.
In an article titled Road Transport Efficiency featured in the September 2009 edition of FleetWatch, Max Braun pointed out that logistics surveys revealed that 1,37 billion tons of freight are hauled by road compared to 205 million tons on rail. Surely this is reason enough to focus on optimised road maintenance.
Nordengen identifies these elements as being vital keys in road freight transport. They are:
- Road Infrastructure
- Vehicles (design, maintenance and operation)
This has echoes of the Road Transport Quality System (RTQS) that has been around for some 20 years following the National Department of Transport’s decision to deregulate the transport of goods by road. The RTQS was aimed at vehicle, driver and operator fitness and written into legislation for action to be taken against operators who do not carry out their duties and responsibilities as outlined in the National Road Traffic Act.
The question to ask is: Why did the RTQS not work? Clearly the tests carried out by FleetWatch and its Brake & Tyre Watch partners with our road traffic inspectorate show that vehicle, driver and truck are in dire need of ‘˜quality’ attention. Oh, and let’s not forget AARTO!
What are the big issues?
What is refreshing is that Nordengen presents three clear, ‘˜big’ issues to bear in mind when talking road freight transport , global competitiveness, quality of life and a sustainable environment. These are clearly ‘˜big-picture’ issues and concern all of us, even the road transport unions.
In this arena, one has to look at Transport Efficiency and here, the lack of training and the distinct absence of road transport professionals lead to under-loaded, over-loaded and empty trucks on our roads every day. Add port congestion to road congestion and long off-loading times and the inefficiencies grow.
When talking global competitiveness, it is frightening to know that the cost of logistics – as a percentage of GDP in South Africa – is almost double that of the United States and 50% more than Japan and Brazil (See Table 4). Add the current strength of the Rand and exports suffer severely.
Road condition and accidents are co-travellers. Energy consumption, emissions and green supply-chains are vitally important issues but let’s also get the death rate down and road safety enforced.
Quality of Life
Road safety, congestion, cost of logistics and road conditions are all among the items that Nordengen lists as impacting on the quality of life of all South Africans. And let’s not forget crime. Crime feeds off lax road law enforcement.The flagrant flouting of regulations regarding speed, load and a host of safety issues is indicative of society as a whole. Ask any Gauteng resident what irks them the most and they will answer – traffic congestion and crime! Overloading is one way of competing with high logistical costs if enforcement is absent.
Tourism , a job and forex generator
Tourists are attracted by good roads that are well-policed. If there is one perception our tourists will carry as an enduring memory, it is how the road network supported an enjoyable visit to South Africa. While our Government has a duty to its own citizens to provide good quality roads, attracting tourists must surely be an important strategic goal – if anything, just for the cash inflow it generates. And many tourists do not come to tour our cities but to travel – often by road – to our game parks and scenic wonders. The road makes the difference!
The strategic imperatives are accurate and could benefit everyone. Implementation and action plans are hard work but do not appear to be a value and cultural thing within Governmental circles. We’ve been talking these things for years and the annual road safety statistics prove that nothing changes. We have the laws and need no further meetings. It’s time for the unpleasant bit – the law enforcement.
What FleetWatch observes at each Brake & Tyre Watch exercise is the mere tip of the iceberg and road transport operators should be ashamed that they let their rigs get into such a state, never mind the law. How do we make road transport a priority in parliament? That’s the question.