Covid-19 – where the world’s road transport stands

Monday, April 20, 2020

It has been a month already since Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic and containment measures, albeit unilateral, have been put in place by governments. 

A month, and even longer in China, that drivers, passenger transport companies, logistics companies and all involved in the supply chain, have been dealing with the repercussions of not enough equipment, not enough information and not enough cash to keep working. 

A month since the world’s road transport organisation, IRU, has been lobbying organisations and governments, working with members and partners, and assessing the impacts and outcomes, to help the industry through this. 

On 13 March the IRU issued a letter to the UN secretary general, urging him to call on governments for a coordinated global response. It is the only way to respond efficiently to a global problem such as this one. 

While the IRU has secured small successes that have eased the flow of goods across the globe, much remains to be done in terms of support to financially struggling SMEs and to the drivers who go to work every day. Some of the solutions are more complex and involve multilateral mechanisms to be put in place. But others, like simply giving access to toilets, showers and food to drivers, can and should be done right now. As the conversations shift towards economic recovery plans, here is what has been done so far, and what is still missing.

“Unilateral measures by governments will not get us anywhere. Working together, learning from those who have seen results and implementing those measures on a global scale, will. The time for effective coordinated global action is now,” says IRU secretary general Umberto De Pretto. 

Supply chains and borders

The situation has somewhat stabilised in Europe at temporary borders inside the EU. The Balkans has extended its green lanes to all goods as well, which means better alignment with the EU. But the green lanes are only partially implemented at EU and non-EU borders. And every morning in the IRU’s task force meeting, it still sees reports of hour-long queues. Turkey in particular has adopted discriminatory quarantine restrictions, China has been blocking incoming transport, and the Middle Eastern borders face 24-hour crossing times. The IRU will keep working closely with its members in each country on lobbying governments to ease restrictions and improve the flow of goods.

Because drivers now spend hours waiting at borders, driving and rest time rules, as well as driving bans and delivery restrictions, have been relaxed in many countries, including the US and EU member states. This is to make sure food and medical supplies continue being delivered and that drivers can leave affected regions as quickly as possible to return home.

Together with the International Transport Forum (ITF), the IRU has succeeded in obtaining extensions to the validity of the ECMT certificate of roadworthiness test and the extension of validity of permits that have expired en route due to different administrative procedures in force, until the vehicles are able to complete the journey. 

Economic support

China, India, and several US states, have reduced or eliminated tolls on roads for motor carriers. This is the right thing to do, since all trucks on the road are resupplying depleted stocks. The IRU would like to see more of this across the board. 

Many countries, including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, and China, have announced emergency financial aid programmes for affected businesses to prevent bankruptcies. 

In the EU, the commission has issued state aid guidelines and member states agreed on another €540 billion support fund to support the fight against Covid-19. Although mobility and logistics operators are not explicitly included in the emergency programmes, they should have priority access to funds as many of them, especially mobility operators, are on the verge of bankruptcy. Without the world’s road transport companies, any economic recovery will be merely theoretical. 

With passenger transport companies reporting 80% business decline on average, globally, this, and much more, is what is at stake. 

In the Americas, Russia and Belarus, associations have been in talks with suppliers, including insurance companies, to change credit terms for carriers to defer payments. The IRU says it would welcome governments joining these negotiations and coming up with specific relief guidelines, so that all can benefit from the outcomes. 

In the US, the first signs of recognising road transport as essential come with the nomination of the American Trucking Associations (ATA)’s CEO Chris Spear to the White House Economic Revival Group.

Protecting drivers

The IRU has been talking to drivers who are still on the road. Many of them say they are lucky because their employers increased health and safety standards, and provide them with protective equipment. What is disheartening however, is to still hear so many of them say that access to a clean shower, toilet and to food, is still a problem. Because of a lack of regulation, gas stations, rest area restaurants and loading/unloading areas, have implemented arbitrary measures on safe distancing, opening and closing times and restricted access to their sanitary facilities. This is contradictory to the viral statements about drivers being heroes. They truly, indisputably, are, and in exchange for being able to put food on our plates every day thanks to them, governments should put in place concrete measures to ensure they have access to the basics.