2 Apr 2020

Trucking industry says supply chain at risk

From Nine To Noon, 9:49 am on 2 April 2020

Restrictions on moving freight means containers cannot be unloaded, clogging up storage areas and trucks moving essential goods around the country are returning full "fresh air", the Road Transport Forum, says.

Chief Executive of the forum Nick Leggett, told Nine to Noon some of the decisions about what is essential and non-essential are arbitrary.

“We do want to challenge this arbitrary term of non- essential because all freight is created equal in the supply chain and that’s how the chain works, and it works efficiently and it’s an ecosystem that is not always a straight A to B.”

Keeping the supply chain moving efficiently would stand the country in better stead for when it recovers from lockdown, he said.

Freight truck on SH63.

Freight truck on SH63. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

“If you’ve got non-essential goods sitting, in some cases degrading, in containers in storage facilities costing money, it’s going to be that much harder when businesses are open again.

“They’re going to have additional costs, they’re going to have lag times in finding and taking their freight out of containers and we’ve got the issue of supplying those containers back into the supply chain to go back out for export,” Leggett said.

While trucks were on the road moving essential freight, that did not mean the industry was in good shape, Leggett said.

“Just because you are seeing trucks on the road at the moment carrying essential goods, it doesn’t mean those businesses are in a good state, because they are only able to carry essential goods”

Trucks would usually fill up again for the return journey he said.

“In some cases, they are carrying a lot of fresh air around the country that would usually be filled by what is now deemed as non-essential freight.

“So, it is really important, if we want to keep the arteries of our economy going, which is mainly road freight …. we need to get non-essential freight moving as well both to keep transport operators going but also for the general health of the economy.”

Leggett said many haulage companies were operating at about 25 percent capacity under the lockdown, and freight companies could make use of that spare capacity without compromising the fight against Covid-19.

“It would allow companies that are already running essential goods to handle non-essential goods, those companies are observing protocols around distancing, around hygiene.

“It’s able to do that, it’s not necessarily the case of bringing a whole lot more people into the chain, it’s just allowing freight to move as it naturally does in the ecosystem.”

Ministry of Transport chief executive Peter Mersi told Nine to Noon that essential vehicles, such as police cars and fire engines, could now be unloaded from container ships.

“We had further discussions, particularly with the Port of Auckland, so we understood a little bit more about what sort of vehicles were on there.

“So those car carriers will now be able to discharge the vehicles and they will be moved in a way that minimises the number of people involved to get them out of the vessel and make the essential service vehicles available.”

Mersi said the ministry was constantly monitoring the supply chain.

“We have regular conversations with all of the ports, I spoke with them all yesterday, so we are monitoring both the inflow of essential goods and the flow and availability of empty containers. And the extent to which non-essential goods need to be moved in order to ensure that that essential goods supply chain remains intact.”

But it was a question of finding a balance, he said.

“We must minimise the number of people that are moving out of their bubble, because if we don’t get that right the risk we run is that either the level 4 requirements remain in place longer or we stay at level 3 longer.

“This is a balance that we need to find. We all as a country are incurring a significant cost and the reason we’re doing that is to try and break community transmission of Covid-19.”