Let’s face facts here – no one gets involved in truck transport simply for the love of torque and diesel. No; we’re all in the game to make a living and hopefully, a good one at that. At the end of the day, it’s all about money and a truck is only worth its salt if it carries a profitable payload. At face-value, this seems a pretty straightforward concept – load the lorry to the max and rake in the boodle. And that’s where much of the ‘overloading in South Africa’ problem lies, in ignorance and severe short-sightedness, writesPaul Collings
OVER THE YEARS, FleetWatch has gone to great lengths to help eradicate the ‘scourge’ of overloaded trucks on our roads. For most truckers, the obvious problems associated with overloading include excessive fuel consumption and component wear, greater safety risks, traffic fines and impounding, vehicle downtime etc.
The last decade has seen government and its road agencies clamp down severely on overloaded trucks, reducing the ‘tolerance’ on gross vehicle mass (GVM) from five percent to two percent a couple of years ago and this year had the industry up in arms with a mooted permissible axle-mass reduction from nine tons to eight tons.
While most transporters comply with legislated vehicle mass restrictions, there are those who persist in flouting the law. The upshot is that the entire road freight industry is ‘tarred and feathered’ with the same brush, accused of being the primary culprit damaging our ageing road infrastructure.
A dire problem
And herein lies the rub – the sorry state of South Africa's road network. It can be stated without risk of hyperbole that unless drastic action is taken to thwart the decay of our nation’s roads, road transport of any form will become increasingly difficult in the years ahead, which will effectively bring our economy to a grinding halt.
The Sixth Annual State of Logistics Survey 2009 (published by Imperial Logistics, the CSIR and the University of Stellenbosch) states that: “The percentage of bad and very bad roads in the secondary road network of South Africa increased from eight percent in 1998 to 20 percent in 2008. The deterioration of the secondary road network is problematic as many deliveries are routed on these roads. Results obtained from a case study conducted indicate that the potential effect of deteriorating road quality on vehicle maintenance and repair costs and the total logistics costs of a company, is significant.”
Apart from the usual hazards associated with overloading (increased fuel, maintenance and legal costs), transport operators are now literally having the road disappear from beneath their wheels, not only threatening their long-term survival but eating away at their bottom line right now.
The State of Logistics Survey adds that: “Total vehicle maintenance and repair can increase by as much as 121 percent for a truck travelling on a road with a bad condition rating and total logistics costs of a company can increase by as much as 10 percent. This could lead to unnecessary increases in the total logistics costs of a country and hamper economic growth. It is therefore vital to create awareness of the potential negative impacts of bad roads amongst stakeholders to ensure that proper attention is given to timely and proper maintenance of roads.”
Who needs to act?
The State of Logistics Survey also points out that: “While South Africa’s national roads are in a reasonable condition, the roads that are the responsibility of provincial and local governments are deteriorating at an alarming rate. Roads are built to last 20 to 30 years, if maintained properly. The lack of maintenance is affecting the smooth running of the economy as well as the ability of South Africa to compete globally from a logistics point of view.”
Simply put, National Government needs to finance and oversee the upgrading of our road network and the road transport industry needs to implement best-practice loading strategies.
According to SANRAL’s Road Network Manager, Louw Kannemeyer, “South Africa’s road network is reaching the end of its natural design life. It’s ‘geriatric’ and needs to be treated as such. Right now, it’s not getting the necessary money and care from government. SANRAL is currently busy with research to revise our model of road design. With SA axle masses exceeding those in Europe, there’s no reason why our roads should be built some 35 percent cheaper than those in the EU.”
Speaking at the recent HeavyWeight Expo held in Pretoria, the Department of Transport’s (DoT) Infrastructure Network Manager, Prasanth Mohan, focused on the successes of RTMS (Road Transport Management System) to reduce overloading and improve productivity through effective industry self-regulation.
“Consignors and consignees in the forestry and sugar industries now insist on RTMS accreditation for a tender bid to stand any chance of securing a haulage contract. The RTMS standard for overloading states that no more than four percent of all loads can be overloaded, and that’s within the twopercent tolerance,” he says.
The success of RTMS to curb overloading in sugar and timber transport has been well documented inFleetWatch over the last four years but obviously, overloading stretches well beyond these sectors and is a national problem.
Mohan states that: “Operators need to monitor loads scientifically while law enforcement needs to become more efficient. This being said, there are moves afoot within the DoT to harmonise the overloading penalty system nationally with the RTMC (Road Transport Management Committee) looking to implement a National Charge Book for overloading. Operators who transgress can expect their vehicles to initially be impounded for five hours and with habitual offences, face a complete embargo of their business.”
Also a guest speaker at the HeavyWeight Expo was the Road Freight Association’s (RFA) Gavin Kelly. “The proposed restriction on axle mass was fiercely opposed by industry. However, after meeting with Deputy Minister of Transport, Jeremy Cronin, a ‘strategy task group’ has been formed and the RFA will now work together with the DoT to find a solution, looking closely at innovations in vehicle design to help combat road pavement damage.” Central to the debate, Kelly emphasised, is the movement of freight from road to rail. While Transnet seems incapable of getting its act together, Kelly insists that certain commodities (like bulk maize and cobalt, for example), should never be moved by road.
“We have in the past flatly refused to move coal by road simply because of the damage it causes to our roads. The time for regulating road-to-rail has arrived and government needs to work with industry to arrive at a viable intermodal solution to the problem,” he says
Getting it right in coal and sugar
South Africa’s electricity supply utility, Eskom, while relying on both conveyor and rail systems for its coal supplies, also employs a massive fleet of tipper trucks to deliver coal from mines to its 13 coal-fired power stations. Located predominantly in Mpumalanga near SA’s largest coal deposits, Eskom’s in-house and subcontracted truck fleets are managed by its logistics division, Rotran, which has implemented RTMS to boost efficiency and safety within the coal-by-truck supply chain.
According to Ayanda Zaca, RTMS Manager, Crickmay & Associates (a leading supply chain efficiency consultancy directing the roll-out of RTMS within Eskom’s truck fleet): “Much of the focus thus far has been on the over-loading of trucks in order to reduce the negative impact of coal road haulage on the road network infrastructure. It is envisioned that the clearing of the remaining five percent overloading is to be achieved with implementation of accurate loading processes and systems, such as OptiLoad, at the various mining sources.”
With current overloading figures holding steadily around the five percent mark for a continued period, a shift is now underway to focus on the under-loading of vehicles as well. “With under-loading currently registering at just below 60 percent, it makes sense to strive for maximum optimisation of loading to reduce the number of trucks on the road,” says Zaca, adding that the latest technologies play no small part in helping Eskom and Rotran revolutionise their supply chain.
“Technologies such as the Automated Weighbridge System, Vehicle Management System, MaxLegal and OptiLoad allow Rotran to monitor and/or load vehicles on an individual basis (e.g. determining each vehicle’s legal carrying capacity). This means that the data and results produced are extremely accurate, allowing each vehicle to be loaded and measured according to its particular specifications. With this level of data integrity at hand, Rotran can back the accuracy of the results produced with full confidence,” Zaca says.
According to Zaca, the success of RTMS within Eskom and Rotran is such that the thinking within Eskom is to expand the RTMS initiative to include RTMS compliance as part of its new coal supply agreements. “In these agreements, Eskom will be contractually requiring their hauliers and consignees to be RTMS accredited. This represents a very significant step as far as the roll-out of RTMS is concerned and is indicative of Eskom’s commitment to the RTMS initiative.”
RTMS in the sugar industry remains on track with 13 of the country’s mill areas submitting figures. “The Minister of Transport has raised the issue of ringfencing road maintenance. The Sugar Industry’s RTMS committee contends that compliance to RTMS could be a good gauge of where ring fencing should be applied. The argument is compelling considering there are mills that are doing their bit to ensure that the road infrastructure is protected. Their efforts should be rewarded in the form of well-maintained roads on the routes they travel.”
As the RFA’s Kelly says: “We’re in this together” and it will take a concerted effort on the part of industry and government to stem the tide of road destruction. The time for action is now, with open minds and open wallets all round!
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