The proposed amendments to axle limit regulations will have a severe damaging effect on South Africa’s economy and its ability to compete in global markets.
This is the dire warning from Kevin Martin, vice chairman of the Harbour Carriers Division of the South African Association of Freight Forwarders who says the DoT proposal will have a series of ripple effects that will cause irreparable harm to regional trade and the ability of road transport to operate effectively locally and across the entire southern African region.
“The proposal to reduce axle mass limits is based on economic principals of affordability and no consideration has been given to the possible impact on the road freight industry,” he says.
“It is important to look and understand exactly what our logistic chain is all about, and what part road freight plays in it,” he says.
According to Martin, the Maritime Doctrine for the SA Navy (SANGP 100 - 2006) says 90% of South African imports and exports in terms of value are carried by sea and in 1998, approximately 65% of South Africa’s GDP was generated by foreign trade.
“In other words, it is estimated that 60 cents of every Rand earned in South Africa is directly dependent on sea freight,” Martin comments.
Martin says that in July, 2008 Castro Khwela - a senior Transnet executive – was quoted as saying that 95% of SADC trade passed through the region’s eight sea ports and 98% of all imports and exports are, at some stage, transported by ship.
“As all this trade by sea is facilitated by the land facilities of road and rail moving the goods into and out of the ports on a generally agreed ratio of 20% rail to 80% road. It is very important to realise that "tinkering" with one component such as axle limits on road vehicles will have a major impact on the SA economy, especially on our ability to market our commodities internationally in the world market-place.
“Due to the fact that the SA industrial heart lies far from the sea, our logistic chain is already double (approx 16%) our competition (approx 8%). It is a very real possibility that any increase in these costs will cost us market share and jobs.”
The effect of the proposals on container transport would, according to Martin, also be catastrophic. Around 500 000 ISO containers are transported in South Africa every year and the majority of these weigh 30 000 kg and would not be able to be transported as the present road equipment would not be legal.
“No abnormal vehicles could convey these containers under the new proposed legislation as abnormal loads would not be allowed on secondary roads,” he says.
Martin adds that regional trade would also be affected as the proposals will also be out of line with the SADC protocol agreements of 10 000 kg per axle which were ratified earlier this year. Martin says Transnet previously tried to revitalise its branch lines (timber) in the midlands and were successful until it demanded a 40% increase following which the customers largely moved to road transport.
“Also, although Transnet has the lines, they do not have the rolling stock or the budget to acquire same in the immediate future. Extra trained personnel would also have to be acquired if and when they do get the budget.”
So what does this proposal really mean in practical terms? According to Martin there will be a minimum 15% decrease in payload, a potential 15% increase in the cost of road transport with a knock effect on inflation and food prices and an increase of around 15% more trucks on the roads.
“As the general rule of economics in road transport is that the greater the payload the lower the per unit cost, a 15% increase in cost is also a 15% "carbon foot-print per unit cost" increase - which will impact on global warming and our ability to trade,” Martin adds.
He says the two questions that must be asked are: Firstly, does the proposal decrease costs within the logistic chain, limit or decrease inflation and/or create employment? Secondly can systems be put into place to decrease and/ or slow our road degradation?
2009 FleetWatch magazine and FleetWatch On-Line.
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