“Drivers still face a litany of obstacles as they go about their crucial business during the virus outbreak, including massive traffic jams and lack of access to proper rest facilities,” according to the Secretary General of the International Road Transport Union (IRU), Umberto de Pretto who calls for more care, in an interview with EURACTIV.
“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 our 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 we have been lobbying organisations and Governments, working with our members and partners, and assessing the impacts and outcomes, to help the industry through this.
On 13 March, we 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 we have 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 courageously 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.
Supply chains and borders
The situation has somewhat stabilised in Europe at temporary borders inside the EU. The Balkans have extended their 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 our task force meeting, we still see 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. We keep working closely with our 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), we have succeeded in obtaining extensions to the validity of the ECMT Certificate of Roadworthiness Test and the extension of validity of permits that have expired enroute due to different administrative procedures in force, until the vehicles are able to complete the journey.
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. We would like to see more of this across the board. Emergency financial aid programmes announced for impacted businesses to prevent bankruptcies have been announced by many countries, including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Japan and China. 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 our 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. We would welcome that Governments join these negotiations and come 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. This is a great example, which we would like to see other Governments follow.
We have 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 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.
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.” www.euractiv.com