In today's Finshots we talk about why truck drivers are abandoning their profession altogether and how it's precipitating a crisis in the UK


The Story

There’s something interesting happening in the UK. Petrol pumps are running out of petrol and it’s not due to a shortage of fuel.

It’s kind of weird, but hear us out. There’s technically no shortage of fuel. Britain has enough of it. However, there is a shortage of truckers — people who move petrol from one point to another. And that’s what’s precipitating the crisis. There's been a decline in the number of heavy-good-drivers— from 300,000 just a couple of years ago to about 70,000 right now, and it doesn’t look like they’re coming back anytime soon.

Why are all the truckers abandoning their professions? you ask.

Well, multiple reasons. Some have left the country due to Brexit (after Britain withdrew from the European Union). Even others left the country during the pandemic as travel and visa restrictions made life rather difficult. New truckers meanwhile had trouble signing up because test centres were closed. And trucking isn’t a glamorous job to be honest. The average age of truckers in Britain is 55 and young people aren’t exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of becoming a trucker either.

Now the country’s policymakers are desperately trying to avert a full-blown crisis. They’re requesting retired truckers to get back on the road. They are issuing new visas to foreign workers. And there’s even a rallying cry now — “Drive for Britain.”

But here’s the thing. The problem of the disappearing trucker isn’t just unique to Britain. It’s happening across the world, including India. The only difference perhaps is that truckers in India are quitting the profession for entirely different reasons. As one survey notes —

 “Truck drivers form the backbone of the logistics sector. They are the most important stakeholder in ensuring smooth transportation of goods over long distances, yet remain vulnerable due to the fragmented and informal nature of the trucking industry. This study reveals that more than half of the respondent truck drivers are dissatisfied with their profession. 84% of the respondents said they will not recommend trucking to their family members or relatives.

Two-third of the drivers feel the profession is unattractive due to the lack of security and safety on the road. 53% of the drivers earn between INR 10,000 to INR 20,000 per month. Their living conditions are abysmal with no standardisation in wages, lack of social security and incentives to complete a trip on time. Most drivers do not own their vehicles. They often suffer from driver fatigue due to long working hours. On average, each driver drives for about 11.9 hours in a day. In terms of average distance covered, a truck driver covers about 417 km daily. 49% of the respondent drivers said they drive vehicles even if they are feeling fatigued or sleepy.”

At this point you’re probably asking — “Who in their right mind would continue to ply their trucks in the face of such adversity?”

And that’s precisely the point. The only truckers staying back are the ones that are desperate. Many others have already taken up work under the MNREGA scheme or switching  jobs— like plying a cab perhaps. In fact, even the data points to this anomaly. At one point in time, we had a large number of truck drivers competing for very limited spots. Today, we have about 20 lakh drivers — But only 750 drivers for every 1000 trucks that are currently registered. Meaning many trucks are just sitting there gathering dust because there’s no one to drive them.

The only way to stem the flow perhaps is to better regulate the industry. Nitin Gadkari only recently pitched for fixed driving hours of commercial truck drivers as well as including onboard sleep detection sensors. And while it may increase costs initially, perhaps it is the only way to keep truckers on the road.

Until then…

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