As thousands of stranded truck drivers are preparing to spend a grim Christmas along European roads, haulage firms need governments to agree and act on clear protocols to avoid a crisis like COVID-19 blocking a major border crossing again.
Although trucks are now moving slowly through a gridlocked Dover towards France, the current backlog of up to 10,000 trucks is expected to take at least one week to clear at the current rate. Alarmingly, this does not account for many thousands of other trucks stuck elsewhere in the UK, waiting for the green light to approach Dover.
Relax driving bans
All countries in Europe should relax, as the UK has partially done, driving bans and restrictions over the Christmas and New Year period to allow drivers to get home safely, and to allow supply chains to return to normal as quickly as possible.
The UK authorities are doing their best to manage a difficult situation, yet information on the ground continues to be a serious issue, hundreds of trucks have run out of fuel, and it is clear that overall contingency, including road traffic management, has failed drivers and supply chains and needs to be revised for the future.
COVID testing has also proven to be ineffective, as drivers are largely isolated in their vehicles, and only leads to huge delays without any benefit to managing the pandemic.
“Haulage companies across Europe continue to report confused, afraid and upset drivers on the ground”, said IRU Secretary General Umberto de Pretto. “Drivers should not be forced to spend Christmas in a parking lot. We need to get them home to their families as quickly as possible”.
“This is a post-Brexit dress rehearsal for this border: a trade deal, or no trade deal, will not change this. It`s unacceptable how drivers are being treated by the authorities, with limited food and sanitation, and insufficient guidance and understanding”.
Despite their bleak Christmas Eve, drivers are however thanking the individuals who are endeavouring to support them on the ground, including charity workers and volunteers from the local community.
New protocols needed
The pandemic, not for the first time, has blocked a major cross-border trade route, disrupting essential supply chains and bringing misery to drivers. Despite hopes for an early end to the pandemic and with a new EU-UK trade deal in sight, governments need to step up plans and protocols on dealing with border crises.
A post-Brexit trade deal will not remove the potential for blockages due to additional border crossing and customs procedures. New strains of COVID-19 are expected to cause problems for some time to come.
Drivers and transport companies have already faced dozens of border issues and blockades through the pandemic, for example the 60km long truck queues seen on some internal EU borders, or other countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas completely closing their borders to trucks for extended periods of time. In every case, essential hard-working drivers are trapped and suffer.
“Goods and supply chains must keep flowing, even more so in a crisis,” said Umberto de Pretto.
“Road haulage firms and their drivers, along with transport authorities, need certainty and clarity on the protocols to follow in a crisis, to be able to react to and manage situations like the current one in Dover.”
The European Commission’s recommendations on pandemic border measures, adopted yesterday, and reinforced in the Transport Commissioner’s strongly worded letter to member states today, go some way to help the situation in Europe, although member states, including France, need to follow them.
The EU’s Green Lanes communication earlier this year was also useful, along with high level UN and government support for transit systems, such as TIR, that help goods move more efficiently across borders. However these do not work if a border is completely closed to trucks.