Visionary leadership needed for intermodal transport
By John Judge, Managing Director, Judge 3D
The biggest problem currently facing intermodal transport in the UK is that we have a situation where too often the transport bodies work in isolation from each other and do not address the overall needs of the customer and their total journey.
There is no regulatory or governing body overseeing intermodal transport and leading on what is best for UK Plc, so the transport system is fractured to the point where we do not have a system, but instead consist of various transport systems - from pedestrian, to cycling, to vehicles, to railways and airports - all working independently alongside each other.
The London Olympics was a perfect example of what can be achieved when the transport bodies share a common goal. Logistically, organisers had to cater to the transport needs of athletes and spectators arriving in the country from all over the world, the vast numbers of domestic spectators travelling internally to various Olympic sites, whilst minimising the impact on the flow of London commuter traffic going in and out of town.
Yet it all ran smoothly, and much like the rest of the games the intermodal transport solution put in place was an overwhelming success. Why? Because the various transport bodies worked together based upon the anticipated end-to-end total journey from local to long distance travellers.
Much has been said about Olympic legacy, but the template used to create the intermodal transport system is an equally valid part of that legacy and is something towns and cities can adopt and modify to suit.
I do a lot of travelling that takes in all forms of transport, and on my travels I usually end up dreaming of a world where I could drive to the edge of town and board something comfortable that would whiz up into the air and deliver me safely to my destination. It’d be a journey where I wouldn’t have to listen to other people’s music blaring out their headphones, or be subjected to someone talking loudly into their mobile phone, because it would be my own space. There would be no delays, no waiting in queues, no unexpected danger or accidents, none of that. It would just be straightforward and pleasant.
Whilst I wait for that dream to become reality, I, like so many other people, have to deal on a day-to-day basis with an existing transport system that is lacking and forces my behaviour rather than giving me good options.
For instance, I travel to work most days from my home in Cambridgeshire to London, and I would like to drive that journey, as in theory it is more convenient than rail and presents better value - the £5,000 it costs to make that journey on a train each year, not to mention the £1,500 parking costs, which many cannot avoid.
I would sooner fund a car and have the flexibility for other journeys in my leisure time. Yet the roads, especially those in and out of London, are too full, unpredictable and fraught with grief. As a transport customer trying to reach work or home I am forced for all the wrong reasons to use rail.
With modest investment intermodal transport in the UK could be the norm, opening up new opportunities for people of limited transport means and making it easier, safer and more comfortable for regular transport users like myself.
We have the technology to make all this real, to bring all forms of transport together to make a coherent and efficient whole, yet without the benefit of a joined up single vision, procurement on many current and recently completed transport projects is always going to let down by incomplete information about the true nature of our full journeys. We have a palpable void in our transport system. No one is connecting the dots and thinking about the customer. Instead, customers are mostly just processed.
Transport should exist to get us doing more, to enable more trade, and enable us to take part in more leisure, and the whole experience should be smooth and hassle free.
The way we plan and buy intermodal transport is key to delivering this. However, unless we take inspiration from what was achieved in London with the Olympics and tackle future projects with the same approach and vision, the void that haunts UK transport - that queasy feeling of incompleteness, of missed opportunity and that our journeys are sometimes a necessary evil we customers have to comply with and tolerate rather than look forward to and enjoy – means we will never achieve our potential as a nation.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector