IRU's Will Petty looks at the wide-reaching benefits of safer, more efficient, more sustainable road transport services as a means to drive economies in the right direction.
In most of the developing world, the mobility of cargo and people is almost entirely dependent on the road transport sector. The benefits of professionalising the sector – while globally applicable – are therefore especially pertinent in the developing context.
"A more professional transport service will be more reliable, safer, more profitable, more sustainable and more able to focus resources on innovation and training."
The positive proof-points are clear. For example, the cost of training drivers and promoting eco-driving techniques can be recouped by fewer crashes and fines, lower fuel consumption and less vehicle maintenance. In the last 40 years, new trucks’ average consumption of fuel decreased by 40%, from 50 litres/100km in the 1970s to 30 litres/100km in 2008 – demonstrating the case for fleet renewal and improved technical inspections.
On safety, with 85-90 percent of accidents involving commercial vehicles due to human error, there is an even stronger case for driver training through internationally recognised standards. There is also a strong argument when it comes to maintenance (safer fleets), loading (safer logistics facilities) – all of which carry a price when things go wrong.
Road transport is a major economic driver. In addition to direct employment, the sector generates many indirect jobs and employment – all of which can be professionalised. A recent study in East Africa found that there were 1.2 additional jobs for each truck on the road and studies also show that transport and transport-related jobs can reach up to 5 percent of total employment.
Tackling inefficiencies in road transport services requires frameworks to improve productivity, safety, competition, sustainability, transparency and overall professionalism.
"With strategic and focused reform, governments can effect far-reaching advances in logistics performance, encouraging trade, improving road safety and boosting economies – often with minimal financial investment."
Quality – not quantity
Professionalism needs to be driven by the regulatory environment. But it is important that this environment is enabling – generating fair competition and quality of service. Access to the profession should be evaluated by qualitative criteria – so licenses and rules should be framed around the quality of service rather than the quantity of – for example – trucks or loading bays. This can only be achieved where there is consistent enforcement and transparency. If not – the playing field is no longer level.
When there are weak regulations, or when they are unevenly enforced, the compliant are required to compete with the non-compliant – and cannot possibly succeed – given the unfair “disadvantages” of playing by the rules.
In the context of Southern Africa, it is clear that the regulatory authorities are addressing these issues. IRU strongly supports the efforts of the SADC–EAC–COMESA Tripartite to review the regulatory environment at the regional level. The move towards a quality-based, multilateral regulatory framework for road transport is very positive.
And with trade in East and Southern Africa so reliant on road transport, increased efficiency will yield untold economic growth.
"A professional road transport sector is the bedrock of a winning economic strategy."