Aug

Time running out to resolve High Cube container issue

2018-08-07 21:17

Editor’s Comment

By Patrick O’Leary and Max Braun

I share this month’s Editor’s Comment with my colleague, Max Braun, on a subject which needs urgent attention. I’ll kick off first. There is a vexing yet unresolved issue hanging over the head of not only the trucking industry of South Africa but indeed, the country as a whole which, if left unresolved, will be a major economic tragedy for South Africa. I refer to the issue surrounding the transport of High-Cube Containers. In essence, the High-Cube containers used extensively throughout the world are higher than the containers introduced when containerisation was first adopted by the world. When this happened, South Africa had to join the world-wide movement towards containerisation and on July 1st, 1977, container ports were opened in Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and City Deep (an inland port). I recall it well for I authored three different supplements on containerisation while working as editor of Commercial Transport back in the days. Lourens Muller was Minister of Transport at that time but the preparation and implementation of containerisation in South Africa was mainly driven by his predecessor, Ben Schoeman under the auspices of the then South African Railways and Harbours (SAR&H). It was after this same man that the Ben Schoeman Highway – the busiest road in South Africa linking Johannesburg and Pretoria – was named. With that background, if the issue of High Cube containers is not resolved, that same highway is not going to have many container trucks travelling on it after January 1st, 2019 – and that can’t be allowed to happen.

In simple terms, the issue revolves around whether the Department of Transport will alter existing legislation to cater for the extra height or whether the legislation will remain as is. The overall height of a truck loaded with the old GP box is approximately 4.3m. However, the overall height of a truck loaded with a high cube container is approximately 4.6m and the legal height under existing legislation is 4,3m. If the legislation remains unaltered, this will mean all transporters carrying High Cube containers will have to either make adjustments to their existing trailers or buy new trailers – both routes being prohibitively expensive and impractical. There is much more detail to go into but in the meantime, FleetWatch adopts the stance that all parties need to urgently get together to resolve the crisis. And it is a crisis for the 7-year moratorium on altering equipment comes to an end on January 1st, 2019. As the RFA states, if the DoT adopts an approach of wanting to enforce rather than amend transport regulations, that will make it impossible for truckers to move these containers on our roads and the economy will take a huge knock. And I mean HUGE! Let me now hand over to Max Braun who writes:

When South Africa steps up to the plate there won’t be any losers. That is what we will see and experience when the Department of Transport (DoT), its agencies, the freight logistics community and road transport services providers come together to celebrate a unanimous agreement to allow the transport of six and 12 meter Hi-Cube Containers (H-CC) on South African roads with a maximum height of 4.6 metres. This long awaited and eagerly anticipated decision gives solid recognition to the policy goals and objectives of the country’s National Transport Policy. In 1996, the Government entrenched a transport system to provide safe, reliable, effective, efficient and fully integrated transport operations and infrastructure which best meets the needs of freight and passenger customers at improved levels of service and cost in a fashion which supports government strategies for economic and social development whilst being environmentally and economically sustainable.

Simple but thorough assessment of the facts as they apply to transporting HCCs on suitable, conventional flat deck semi-trailers confirms there is no basis for assuming there exists a “win-lose” situation between the regulators and the carriers impeding the finalisation of this important element and its potential impact on the smooth and uninterrupted flow of regional and international logistics. The view expressed here is supported by the National Transport Policy (NTP) determination to improve South Africa’s competiveness and that of the transport infrastructure and operations through greater effectiveness and efficiency to better meet the needs of different customer groups, both locally and globally. The NTP reminds us this must be achieved in a manner which is economically sustainable with minimum side effects.

Recent detailed written communications provide regulators, transporters, handlers and shippers with detailed and qualified information confirming the safe and successful movements of HCCs on the roads of many countries around the world. It also details the competent loading and unloading of loaded and empty HCCs in hundreds of ports located on virtually every continent in the world and shipped across the oceans by the world’s most respected shippers. It is a fact that the world’s most efficient economies favour HCCs over all other container options. The savings in transport and handling costs have become vital factors for exporters and importers alike. Major investments in improved packaging and pallet designs optimise the additional space gained from the extra volume HCCs offer. The world of logistics – now in the 21st century – is not willing to wait for anyone who is unable or unwilling to offer the services they require.

South Africa has made amazing inroads into the most promising economies in the world today. These include growing exports to China, EU, US, Australia, Middle East, Japan, East Africa and SSA. Loss of all, or just some, of these hard won markets would be a tragedy and a knock-out blow to our producers, products and other goods. This is especially so when we accept and understand there is no reason why the maximum height should not be increased to 4.6 metres to allow HCCs to fulfil their role. We need to keep in mind the role of HCCs was not chosen by shippers and port authorities. Road transport service providers do not own HCCs or any other packaging. Their focus is on providing first-class transport services to meet customer needs.

In 1995, the then Minister of Transport assembled a number of working groups to review, assess and implement the transport policy we have today. Revisiting that reveals that government at all levels, along with 127 organisations, businesses and individuals crafted the excellent policy we have today. Failure to allow the legal movement of HCCs by road will, without a doubt, result in a major economic tragedy for South Africa’s customers, producers, businesses and workers. To all parties, our message is to step up to the plate and demonstrate there are only winners and no losers.

So how about it? What date we can set the meeting for?

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