Much has been written in the media in recent weeks about the impact of the current driver shortage on the UK road haulage market, where the convergence of three key issues is creating a perfect storm:
These combined factors have left a shortfall of tens of thousands of trained drivers according to Sally Gilson, of the Freight Transport Association (FTA). Industry reports claim FTA members’ depots are short by 5-10 drivers, and driver agencies also need over 10 more drivers per branch. In addition, the British International Freight Association (BIFA) has already warned that a severe shortage of HGV drivers in the UK “could wreak havoc” with deliveries in the lead up to the Christmas peak season.
The ongoing challenges in the UK haulage market means that our industry needs to take steps to improve reliability of the transport service. Here are four key strategies that we believe will play a key part in this:
Companies that have their own haulage fleet and infrastructure – although not immune to this situation – will be better positioned to cope with the natural ebb and flow of haulage requirements and availability of drivers. This is hugely beneficial because you can flex up and down with third party resources, rather than subcontracting resources for peak times, such as Christmas, and then having them sitting idle. Allport Cargo Services is able to utilise our own fleet of air, sea and road vehicles, complemented by the use of dedicated daily contracted rail space. In addition, all our drivers have completed driver training above and beyond the legal requirement.
Efficient practices, such as the increased use of rail will also help to fight the haulage shortage battle. Rather than relying on trucks to queue at major ports such as Felixstowe and Southampton and wasting driver time, utilising rail to ship containers to a hub north of Birmingham on a daily basis, is highly efficient in terms of time and cost. The rail and hub ‘short shunt’ strategy results in greatly improved driver and vehicle utilisation, as well as taking vehicles off the road, avoiding traffic and being more environmentally friendly. As a company, we strongly believe that investment in fleet and rail space infrastructure is essential to keep deliveries moving.
‘Drop and swap’ is also a strategy that makes the best of limited resources and enables better driver utilisation where capacity and drivers are at a premium. This means the driver delivers a container and immediately swaps it for an empty container, which is taken away to a terminal and then back to port. This is much more efficient use of the driver and vehicle ‘tractor unit’ – as opposed to a ‘live tip’ where the driver simply unloads at the distribution centre.
Collaboration has long been a hot topic for our industry, but it is even more vital to deal with the issues the industry is facing. 3PL’s working closely with shippers is imperative to eliminate ‘empty running’ and alleviate driver shortage issues. Co-ordinating fleet deliveries going in and out through partnership with customers will facilitate the utilisation of vehicle collaboration within the supply chain.
While our industry adapts, shippers must also follow suit and improve flexibility around delivery days and times and allow more lead-time on bookings. This will allow the haulage industry to match changes to pre-bookings with truck availability, as well as maximising resource utilisation. If customers are more willing to take deliveries across 24 hours, then transport demand will be smoothed out too.
It’s a difficult challenge, but there’s little doubt that organisations that can manage driver capacity in tough times will build strong and lasting collaborative relationships with customers and a reputation for being a “safe pair of hands”.