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Shortage of drivers, traffic jam troubles and digital waybills

Opportunities and challenges in road transport

Freight volumes are increasing. That is good news for the transport sector. However, transporters are facing the challenge of delivering products on time and under competent guidance. In addition to the imminent shortage of experienced drivers and roads becoming more congested, themes such as digitisation and sustainability are also the order of the day in road transport.

The congested roads are a challenge to Gist Nederland every day as well. Gist World is specialised in time and temperature controlled logistics in the UK and Europe, and employs more than 5,000 people at more than 40 locations. The planning tries to avoid the crowds as much as possible, but can’t always prevent delays. “We drive in the UK a lot. For that, it is essential that the ferry is met, or it has to be decided at the last minute that the lorry is sent through the tunnel, which means additional costs. These types of considerations regularly occur,” says Sijmen Schroevers, commercial coordinator for Gist Nederland. “You have to make sure you’re on time when refrigerated transport is involved.”

He sees the imminent shortage of experienced drivers as a sector-wide problem. “We are currently not undertaking any specific actions, but indirectly we’re trying to stimulate interest for this field, through our Child Safety programme, for example, for which we visit elementary schools to educate children in traffic safety.” Sijmens expects it to be a major challenge, both nationally and throughout Europe, to reach a solution for the threats mentioned earlier. Working together to come up with innovative solutions could potentially help.

He thinks there are good options for digitising the market. Despite Gist already taking steps to digitise the entire operation, he thinks improvement is still possible. Especially digitising waybills gets much attention. “Pilots are taking place to make the manual waybills digital, and to make them provide insight in realtime. Progress is being made, and we hope that the paper waybills will soon be a thing of the past.”

Increasing service and upholding the driver’s working hours law are constant challenges
AB Transport Group is one of the largest transporters of agricultural and food products, and a market leader in transporting potatoes. Anne Pieter Frings, General Manager International, says it’s not very hard finding the right workers. “We have noticed that interest in work that requires people to leave home for days at a time is decreasing somewhat, but fortunately there are still plenty of drivers who don’t mind that. With branches in the UK, France, Germany and Poland, our work force consists of a mix of nationalities. To be able to offer the same service and quality everywhere, our drivers are first trained and supervised by mentor-drivers before starting to work independently.” 

Because of congested roads, which will only increase even more because of the recovering economy according to him, longer driving times will have to be kept in mind for certain routes. “We try to spread out as much as possible, but options are limited. Loading and unloading times tend to be during the day, and we’re working with products that have a limited shelf life. Roads are congested everywhere, but the Netherlands and Belgium take the crown, as well as Germany, where lots of construction is taking place on roads.”

Drivers’ Working Hours Law is leading
In recent years, much has been digitised by AB Transport Group. For example, all orders are digital, and all shipments are tracked using a track and trace system. “Because we have about 1,000 lorries on the road, it’s quite the solution for us to be able to see where our drivers are. In the past, lots of calls had to be made to manage everyone. Now, this is done by the onboard computer. Moreover, our customers are better informed because notifications with loading and unloading times are sent regularly. We also keep a close eye on the developments in the digitisation of waybills,” he says. With an ISO 14001 certificate, AB Transport Group proves they put environmental management first. “We have noticed sustainability is very much alive. Customers ask about our carbon footprint increasingly often. We’re currently doing tests driving bio-LNG, a gas that could make our lorries cleaner and quieter. We want to be a forerunner in this field.” He mentions keeping the degree of service high and the Drivers’ Working Hours, which is leading for the company, are constant challenges. In the past, regulations were less strict, and people were more easygoing about upholding them. Nowadays, regulations are much stricter, which resulted in major changes in the transport sector. AB Transport Group has entered into an enforcement covenant with ILT (the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment). Additionally, he indicates that the transportation company is engaged in corporate social responsibility. As an example, he mentions pushing back ‘empty’ kilometres and various adjustments to reduce fuel use. Besides, AB Transport Group gives concrete input to its social involvement through Stichting A-wareness. “This foundation supports projects, both in the Netherlands and in other countries in which we have branches, that focus on people who deserve extra attention. Think of truck-runs for people with disabilities, trips for the elderly or donating construction kits for children in hospital.”

Sustainable solutions that provide insight
Refrigerated Trailer Rentals (RTR) is specialised in hiring out conditioned semitrailers. The imminent shortage of experienced drivers has not passed them by either. “It affects us indirectly,” says manager Frans de Graaff. “Unfortunately we can’t do much about that, except making sure that when our clients have extra drivers available, we provide the necessary equipment.” RTR is still in development when it comes to digitisation. In future, the company hopes to serve customers even better. “For example, by providing insight into the availability of various semitrailers, communication about maintaining the semitrailers will become easier.” Rental is usually done directly with the customer via phone or e-mail, but he definitely doesn’t exclude a programme for booking the semitrailers online.

Insight into loading in realtime
For RTR it’s inevitable to participate in making the transport sector more sustainable. Last year, the company switched to coolant R-452A for the cooling machines in the trailers. As of this year, all new refrigerated trailers are equipped with SLXi cooling units from Thermo King, which use R-452A as coolant. “One major advantage is the fuel saved and the lower emissions of fine dust and greenhouse gases. The BlueBox is also not entirely unimportant. With this communication device, all data from the cooling machine can be viewed in their own planning system or, if necessary, through an app on smartphones. The driver can operate the cooling machine via, among other things, Bluetooth in urban environmental zones. Should problems occur on the road, a notification is sent, and something can even be done about it during transport.” Furthermore, the entire fleet has been provided with solar panels to prevent low battery voltage. This green energy provides additional power to the battery of the refrigerator.

Focus on shop distribution
With branches in the Netherlands and Belgium, RTR mostly focuses on refrigerated/freezer transport on these markets. RTR’s fleet has been adjust so that the trailers are suitable for every type of conditioned transport. As an example, he mentions the adjustments of the unsupervised trailers, which can be used for traffic throughout Europe by now, and the investments in multitemp trailers, which can transport products in multiple temperature zones. “This makes it possible to transport several products at once under optimum circumstances. There has been a larger need for this in recent years.” Frans says the emphasis is currently mostly on the supply of products to the large distribution centres. “Additionally, we want to focus more on transport from DCs to shops in coming months. Shop distribution is a growth market for us.” The manager therefore sees plenty of opportunities for the future, which can also be seen in the current investments. During the first half of this year, sixty new semitrailers were bought, and a major investment is also ready to be made in the second half of the year.

Offer tailor-made driving jobs
The lack of experienced drivers is something transporter and logistics service provider Kivits Drunen has seen for years. “Both the sector as a whole and we personally try to anticipate this problem as best as possible,” says manager Rob van Opzeeland. He says there’s now more need for a good balance between work and social lives. “We respond to that by offering drivers tailor-made jobs. This has resulted in an enormous change. While we used to employ many typical driver-drivers, we now have more diversification. People becoming drivers from other jobs, young people following a training course, part-timers, evening and weekend drivers, or, for example, people who took early retirement who work for a few days. We also have more female drivers nowadays. Additionally, it continues to be important to hold on to permanent people. If you want to find suitable workers, flexibility from both sides is inescapable.” Besides, the transport company has cars stationed in the north of the Netherlands, to accommodate workers from these regions. 

Congested roads, boosted by the growing economy, results in both the Netherlands and Belgium becoming increasingly inaccessible. “This makes it difficult to plan routes, threatening reliability,” Rob mentions as a possible consequence. “Infrastructure is taken care of by the government. We try to exert some pressure on the investments that are made through TLN. We try to avoid traffic jams as much as possible, although you can never escape them completely considering the fixed times in fresh transport. Fortunately, we can limit the number of empty kilometres to a minimum, but I think you’d be scared of how many empty kilometres are driven. Perhaps it could be a solution for smaller companies to bundle cargoes.” When asked how he feels about international competition with Eastern European drivers in particular, Rob answers he is first and foremost a proponent of the free market. “The fact is that the Netherlands can no longer win from foreign drivers in terms of long distances. We will have to become more and more distinctive in specialities such as service, quality, being on time, and so on. In those fields we can definitely win from the competition.” He also sees opportunities in digitising all forms. He says retail isn’t there yet, but he expects the paperwork drivers now have to take with them will become a thing of the past within the foreseeable future.

Rising costs
Rob says he’s well disposed towards the environment, but states business and sustainability should go hand in hand. “We currently have four cars driving on LNG. This gas isn’t just quieter, it also has lower CO2 emissions,” he explains. “We will soon reach the 1,000,000-kilometre milestone with the first LNG lorry, and it all went off without a hitch. Furthermore, we have nine LZVs. These allow for more products to be delivered using less diesel. Moreover, it offers good opportunities to bundled batches.” In the mid-long term, he expects diesel will partially make room for greener fuels. In the long term, the manager also sees opportunities for electric, which is still in its infancy now. He has also noticed that rising costs are a bottleneck. Companies in transport and logistics are getting more work, but are in danger of being left with less. The pressure on tariffs remains a bottleneck. The recovery wasn’t in the way of companies before, but because of rising fuel prices and higher wages, costs are estimated to rise by three per cent this year. As a result, price ratios are inevitable, which he believes will be a challenge.

Truck platooning promising
A test for truck platooning was recently conducted from various European cities. Results are promising, according to Transportonline. With truck platooning, two or three trucks are connected to each other via WiFi. The front truck decides speed and route. The other trucks can follow at short distance, so that room is made available on the roads for other vehicles. Thanks to the WiFi connection between the trucks, all trucks brake at the same time. This prevents shock movements. That leads to a better traffic flow, so that goods reach their destination quicker. With truck platooning, up to ten per cent can be saved in fuel, which is good for pushing back CO2 emissions. Moreover, it could result in interesting savings for transportation entrepreneurs. Self-driving vehicles will also contribute to road safety. By making truck platooning possible on a large scale, European legislation and regulations can be better tuned to each other as well.

More information:
Gist World
Sijmen Schroevers

AB Transport Group
Anne Pieter Frings
RTR Trailer
Frans de Graaff

Kivits Drunen
Rob van Opzeeland

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