Truck strike a powerful show of selfishness

Move a frivolous endeavour 

Last week the country’s economy was held ransom by the Coal Transportation Forum (CTF) when it orchestrated a ‘truck strike’, in which hundreds of truck drivers participated in a drive-slow in the surrounds of the nation’s capital.

Clearly, the CTF has taken more than a few pages out of the minibus taxi industry’s dossier ‘Dealing with change: Effective ransom tactics for the 21st century’.

Apart from the fact burning coal to generate electricity is outdated, toxic and unsustainable, truckers are lucky to be transporting commodities like coal in the first place. It is an inconvenient truth that using trucks to transport coal raises the price of electricity.

Seemingly not content with moving around 85% of the country’s total freight volumes, the CTF – and the road transport sector in general – should be grateful for the work it had all these years, and which it’ll continue to get for the foreseeable future.

It could all be very different.

For years, we’ve heard about South Africa’s desire to move freight from road to rail, and for just as long, the road transport sector has scoffed, openly, at the thought.

It has revelled in the perceived incompetence of the state-owned operator to make it happen. But it is happening.

Two weeks ago, the country’s largest steel producer, ArcelorMittal South Africa (AMSA), celebrated the opening of its interim distribution centre in Isando, Johannesburg.

The centre will increase Transnet’s market share of outbound steel products transportation from 13% / 400 000 tonnes in 2016/17 to 34% / 1 000 000 tonnes by 2018, in line with AMSA’s growth projections.

It will also facilitate a large-scale shift of freight from road to rail, seen by Transnet as crucial for the success of the country’s integrated transport strategy.

It will mean 42 000 fewer truck journeys annually between AMSA’s production plants in Newcastle and Saldanha and its Isando hub.

Around 700 000 tonnes of steel will be railed to the facility this financial year alone, creating R100 million plus for TFR, which would otherwise have been spent on road transporters.

In 2016, AMSA paid R700 million to truck owners, with 2.5 million tonnes of steel moved by road.

During the Centre’s launch event, AMSA CEO, Wim de Klerk, explained that, if not for TFR’s shortcomings, around 1.3 million tonnes of total AMSA product would not have been moved by trucks last year.

Of that amount, Iron Ore constituted some 900 000 tonnes, for which AMSA paid an additional R535 million to road transporters. With plans afoot to diversify energy production, and with legislation designed to make road transport less competitive, the road freight sector is staring disruption in the face. It won’t be long before the next truck strike.

South Africa’s catchphrase in 2017 is “transformation”, which shouldn’t be taken to mean Black Economic Empowerment. It is a warning: transform no before your industry gets Ubered.

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