Monday, August 22, 2005

How about the truck drivers?

Well, if the accountants won’t do it, and the farmers are too busy to get on their tractors (or their Corsair) and drive to Brussels, how about the truck (or lorry, as we used to say) drivers?

Having had to weather the increased fuel costs and the insanity of the working time directive, they are, according to the Transport News Network, now bitching about foreign truck drivers.

More specifically, they have noted that EU enlargement has created a "bonanza" for Eastern European lorries on UK Roads. Lorry operators from the ten accession states joining in May 2004 have doubled their traffic volumes in the UK, says the Department for Transport.

Of the new EU member states, 31 percent of the traffic from the new member states is from Poland - up 36 percent in the last year. Czechoslovakia and Hungary account for 25 percent each - up 23 percent and 87 percent respectively since Q2 2004. Overall traffic volume from accession states has increased 3.5 times since 2003.

The figures also confirm that the dwindling share of traffic undertaken by UK-based international hauliers has stabilised. In 1996, UK hauliers accounted for half of all international traffic. However, the combination of growing low cost foreign competition from Eastern Europe, and Sterling's appreciation in value against the Euro, meant that by 2004 the market share of UK-based hauliers had fallen to 25 per cent.

Foreign trucks now represent some ten per cent of the maximum weight vehicles operating on UK roads - there are around 10,000 foreign lorries on UK roads every day of the week.

The point, of course, is that while UK operators pay through the nose for road tax and bear some of the highest diesel costs in Europe, none of these vehicles – or the almost ten percent from outside of the EU - make any payment to operate on UK roads.

Simon Chapman, Chief Economist of the Freight Transport Association says "International road haulage is an extremely tough environment for UK hauliers. No sooner had the problems created by Sterling's exchange rates begun to abate then lower cost competition from Eastern Europe put further downward pressure on rates. UK operators cannot operate indefinitely on wafer thin margins just to keep the wheels of their truck fleets turning."

If we were an independent nation, we could perhaps levy a charge on every foreign vehicle entering the country – as do some other countries – but this is regarded as "discriminatory" by the EU and thus prohibited.

In an attempt to level the playing field, the government did attempt to bring in a lorry road user charging scheme, based on satellite monitoring, applicable to both domestic and foreign lorries, but this ran into technical problems and was abandoned, leaving no solution to an obviously unfair situation.

Perhaps, therefore, the lorry drivers can be prevailed to rise up. They could give lifts to the accountants, and bankers, and could be joined by the farmers in their tractors, to say nothing of the slaughterhouse owners, the fishermen, the airline pilots, the junior doctors (who cannot now get training places because of the working time directive), the electrical and electronic manufacturers, the garment retailers, chemical manufacturers, the military, taxpayers, consumers…

Come to think of it, it there anyone left? Why don’t we all rise up?

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