The Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit’s “over-complications” are causing a severe HGV driver shortage with major consequences to supply chains into the UK. Supermarkets shelves appear empty, restaurants are struggling for supplies and people are starting to worry about Christmas.
And even though we believe that the forces behind driver shortages might run even deeper and thus need a longer-term solution, companies and the UK government should make it a priority to tackle the problem immediately and head on.
We acknowledge that the government is trying by making quick fixes such as the yet temporary visa scheme to allow EU drivers into the country. However, these solutions will fall short if not run in parallel with a longer-term vision on how to bring an outdated industry up to speed. In fact, what is happening in the UK today will eventually also transpire to the rest of the Europe demonstrating that the industry, in its current shape and form, is unsustainable.
The freight transport industry has hardly changed despite huge technological leaps achieved in vehicles, geolocation services and others. This has been a big miss for our industry as many of the endemic problems it faces could be improved, if not solved, with the use of technology. Beyond that, the use of technology will only take place when companies and governments see the need for change.
Let’s start with the industry’s poor working conditions; drivers sleep in their cabins, eat on the side of the road, and spend their resting hours away from home. Aside from the immediate impact to current drivers, these issues are deterring young people, who value a healthy work-life balance, from entering the industry. It also excludes women, who represent a minimal percentage in the sector.
All these problems have been ignored until now. On one hand, businesses treat drivers as just another number on the profit and loss account. Secondly, both companies and governments see transport as an expense rather than a possible competitive advantage.
In order to evolve, the industry needs to adapt to new changes. Our company, Trucksters, was set up to try to start that fire.
We are a freight transport operator that provides international transport services through an innovative truck relay system based on big data and AI. For example, a driver may carry a cargo from Madrid to the French border, which is then picked up by another driver who can take it on to Belgium. The original driver can turn around and take a new cargo back to Madrid but, most importantly, will be able to return to home and rest.
By applying our AI integrated relay system drivers spend many more nights at home and their rest times resting. The use of technology itself makes the job more interesting to newer generations who have grown up using smartphones and very advanced technology.
It also makes business sense as our solutions reduce transit times by 50% and costs by 20%. Risk of freight theft is reduced by 95% because trailers are moving more time than with traditional transport models, and because Trucksters provides full traceability of the cargo thanks to how its system integrates with that of its clients.
Going forward, our system is easily scalable as we work with third parties – companies and sole traders – who can integrate their vehicles under the Trucksters umbrella. This way, the company achieves an expandable fleet and routes with sufficient traffic volume to set up intermediate stops.
Breaking long routes into shorter ones is also putting us in an excellent position to embrace the use of electric vehicles which might not yet have the autonomy to cover 1,200 kms in one go.
Headlines focusing on driver shortages are missing the point. We believe that this is an incredibly exciting time for our industry. Technology and good will can make us go a long way but a shift in mindset is desperately needed. Relay systems should be an industry standard, not the exception. Drivers are the beating heart of our industry and so should be protected and cared for. We should embrace technology for transport efficiency but also for sustainability.
Finally, we should scare the demons of bureaucracy away, as they only add unnecessary levels of complications to a rather simple task: transporting products, and with them feelings like happiness for Christmas, from one city to another, from one country to the next.
Gabor Balogh, CEO and co-founder, Trucksters