Hail transport operators!

Hail transport operators!

I’ve just experienced life as a transport operator… and I have newfound respect for the men and women who do this job. It’s not for the faint-hearted!

“My” fleet of trucks – in my new role as a transport operator – was relatively small. It comprised eight utterly exceptional trucks, which were participating in Truck Test 2022. You can read all about the event, the trucks’ specifications, and the results in this issue of the magazine.

So, I had just the eight trucks (granted, all state-of-the-art vehicles). Most transport operators have to manage far larger fleets, which I am sure means much larger problems. Or they have to manage older trucks, which always come with massive issues.

Also – very importantly – my fleet did not run cross-border. Hallelujah to that. Honestly, I have no clue how cross-border transport operators do it. I’m on a cross-border transport operator WhatsApp group and the problems never, ever stop. One minute, a border post is closed (for a litany of reasons, from Covid infections to a lack of water or electricity). The next, a road turns into a quagmire and all the trucks get stuck. Then, roads to border posts are closed – without any notice being given whatsoever – and trucks are diverted hundreds of kilometres. Honestly, the nonsense never stops. I was lucky; my fleet only ran on the N3.

Well, I say “lucky” – running a fleet on the N3 is no longer a walk in the park. The day before Truck Test commenced, there were protests on the national route – specifically, in and around Mooi River, and we all know how protests there ended last July. There were also rumours that Van Reenen’s would be blocked by trucks in protest of rising fuel prices… more about that later.

So, with fewer than 24 hours until the start of our event, we held an emergency meeting. The topic? Our route and whether we should change it. We discussed driving to Durban on alternative routes, but that was ruled out. Apparently, the alternative routes were impassable; our convoy would never get to Durban. We thought about rerouting to Nelspruit – something the average transport operator obviously cannot do. The logistics were horrendous. So, we decided to chance it and stick to our N3 route.

I didn’t sleep at all that night; I was desperately worried.

As it turns out, we didn’t face any road closures or dangerous protests (some idiots in Mooi River did throw a couple of petrol bombs, but they didn’t throw them far enough). Our trucks were not damaged and – most importantly – none of the drivers, observers, or support crew were harmed.

The same certainly cannot be said of so many drivers in our country, who risk their lives on our roads each and every day.

However, of course, we did have to contend with the reason for the planned blockage of Van Reenen’s: the fuel price. We were extremely fortunate to have Engen onboard as a fuel sponsor. While (like every South African) I was worried about the rising cost, the wonderful team of people from Engen were amazing; they didn’t complain once about their ever-escalating fuel bill.

Adnaan Emeran, manager, marketing business development at Engen South Africa, simply stressed his continued support of the event: “At Engen, we understand that the transport sector plays an important role in the South African economy. Without trucks on our roads, South Africa stops moving! Engen has supported Truck Test from Day One and we are continuing that support, because Truck Test is the single most important product testing event on the trucking calendar in South Africa,” he enthused.

I am sure many transport operators wish that they had a guardian angel (which was how Engen felt to me). Honestly, I wonder how transport operators are contending with the somewhat terrifying increases. Are they passing them on to customers? Absorbing some of the cost and passing on the rest? I would love to hear from transport operators in this regard…

I would also love to hear about how they manage the many challenges associated with the legal loading of goods. Because that was something that also gave this here transport operator some sleepless nights…

We were extremely fortunate to secure a sponsor of the loads, namely Vibro, South Africa’s leading manufacturer of bricks and paving. This was a “Really Good Thing” for Truck Test, allowing all the trucks to transport identical loads on their identical Afrit trailers, as well as be monitored by their identical fleet management systems, courtesy of Ctrack.

So, the loads were great – but we were determined to load to the maximum legally allowed payload (which is, after all, what all transport operators do). This was challenging!

The first thing I needed to do was to order specially-built pallets. That wasn’t a huge issue. But then we realised that the loads were actually lighter than anticipated – meaning we needed more bricks and more pallets! So, back to the pallet producer I went.

Finally, the first truck was loaded and went off to the weighbridge. Alarm bells rang once again… the truck was overloaded!

We had yet another emergency meeting to decide what to do. Should we remove a certain number of bricks from each truck? That would be messy. Forklifts would be required. Plus, the loads had been securely wrapped (we didn’t want bricks falling off). So, if some bricks were removed, that would be a problem.

Eventually, we decided to weigh the truck at a different weighbridge. And guess what? It was legally loaded. The previous weighbridge clearly wasn’t properly calibrated or something. In the words of most South Africans: “She was broken”. Panic averted!

This is something with which transport operators contend each and every day – and I salute them. I’m not even going to go into the many other challenges I faced (which are typical of any road transport operation). Drivers getting Covid, for instance… As I said at the outset, running “my” fleet gave me a real understanding of just how challenging it is to manage a fleet of trucks. To those people who do this every day, I say this: you have my respect.

Meanwhile, I will stick to my day job, thank you very much.

Published by

Charleen Clarke

CHARLEEN CLARKE is editorial director of FOCUS. While she is based in Johannesburg, she spends a considerable amount of time overseas, attending international transport events – largely in her capacity as associate member of the International Truck of the Year Jury.
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