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Coping with a pandemic waiting for a structural upgrade

New opportunities logistic companies


Covid emergency, energy and environmental issues, innovation and work. So many are the concerns in this very delicate period for the road transport sector, as well as society as a whole, and the national economy

Paolo Castiglia

Covid emergency, energy and environmental issues, innovation and work. So many are the concerns in this very delicate period for the road transport sector, as well as society as a whole, and the national economy. Let us start with Covid and two decisive issues for the sector: on the one hand, the highly sensitive issue of the massive distribution of anti-covid vaccines and the need for the logistics chain to operate efficiently. On the other hand, the working conditions of lorry drivers, who are faced with several restrictions imposed by the measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

Looking at the vaccines, trade associations are calling for an open discussion with the Government to give logistics and transport experts the opportunity to offer a professional contribution to the distribution of these vaccines throughout the various stages ending with last-mile deliveries in drug stores throughout the country. According to the sector's operators, precise indications as to how to guarantee the adequate low temperatures in the process are still missing.

This problem has been recognized by the president of the Consiglio Superiore di Sanità, Franco Locatelli, who said, however, that the ministry is not unprepared in this regard.

However, the road haulage sector is insisting on a discussion with those who work in this sector every day and explains that, in Italy, no airport today can handle products at -75°, so it is necessary to equip road vehicles with equipment suitable for those temperatures both for long journeys and last mile deliveries: today the vast majority of lorries in Italy cannot handle temperatures below -25 degrees.

A solution will likely be found. However, it is necessary that all the stakeholders bring their contribution, including logistics companies and transporters specialized in refrigerated cargo. The sector’s associations suggest the creation of qualified storage and distribution centres where quality and safety are guaranteed, in order to avoid that unqualified third parties might get into the action. Instead, a binding protocol should be drawn up to define the acceptable behaviour to be followed. The system of large and medium-sized logistics, maritime and road haulage companies is ready to provide all the necessary cooperation.

The other decisive issue mentioned at the beginning concerns the working conditions in which drivers are forced to operate. In mid-November, a special decree was issued by the Ministry to provide an answer to the needs of truck drivers, signed by the Minister of Transport, De Micheli, and the Minister of Health, Speranza. But this measure, in the opinion of Conftrasporto in particular, does not solve the problem as drivers find it difficult to access hygienic facilities along state and provincial roads.

"The measure provide for rest rooms and toilets in ports and road transport hubs, as we had requested. However it does not solve the problem of the inconvenience drivers experience when travelling along secondary roads," explained Conftrasporto-Confcommercio vice-president Paolo Uggè.  "The urgency to give an initial response - says the same Uggè - emerged during a hearing that Fai/Conftrasporto obtained with the Transport Commissioner, the Honourable Raffaella Paita, whom we thank for the interest shown. The problem we posed, however, in essence remains. To give you an idea, a driver travelling on routes such as the Bari-Matera, the Pontina, the Pedemontana Veneta or the Lecco-Bormio where the places indicated in the decree are not to be found, and is in need for a rest room or a toilet, there is nowhere to stop".

"Our request was for a concrete solution to make the condition of men and women who travel for work, at all hours of the day and night along our country's roads, more civilised and dignified. France has done so, while in Italy, to do something as simple as washing the hands or using a toilet, drivers are forced to use the motorway or queue in ports and transport hubs", concluded the vice-president of Conftrasporto.

As mentioned at the beginning, energy and environmental issues, innovation and work are also key issues for the sector, as emerged from the recent Anita assembly, during which a number of proposals were drawn up in favour of road haulage and logistics during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, which were welcomed also by other industry associations.

One of the main proposals is to remove the restrictions currently found in accessing funds for companies that, according to the Ateco code, primarily carry out road transport and not only logistics activities, in order to facilitate the digital transformation of the sector. All this together with the need to identify actions and corrective measures to make the entire national logistics system even more efficient.

According to the sector's operators, there is also a need to promote the use of documents in digital format, starting with electronic waybills, in order to simplify the flow of information between the various players in the logistics chain, making it safer, faster and cheaper: Italy and Portugal are the only countries that have failed to activate any pilot project yet.

Furthermore, several projects must be relaunched: Project 18, i.e. articulated trucks up to 18 metres in length; Ems, European Modular System, a modular combination of up to 25.25 metres in total length and up to 50/60 tonnes in total. The advantages of these transport solutions are considerable: lower environmental and infrastructural impact, 15% less fuel consumption, a reduction in the number of journeys, lower rail-road transport costs and optimisation of loads. Experiments with autonomous vehicles should also be considered.

Turning to energy and environment, there are many measures that could be implemented in the sector, starting with the promotion of “green” investments to promote the purchase of “eco-friendly” and efficient means of transport and the production and consumption of clean energy from renewable sources. On the other hand, the use of old vehicles should be discouraged, perhaps by not granting them discounts on motorway tolls.

The development of hydrogen technology must likewise be supported, possibly by acting on research and production, supply and distribution infrastructures, and paying particular attention to the location of refuelling stations near major motorway junctions, with a decent supply of vehicles on the market as a result of a growing demand.

Heavy duty transport will witness an increasingly important role played by electric vehicles over short distances and urban areas and hydrogen fuel cells over longer distances. In the transition phase, bio-LPG and advanced biofuels will play a key role and should be promoted, for example by granting a higher reimbursement of motorway tolls for vehicles using these fuels.

Modal transfer, road-sea and road-rail, should also be promoted, but in this case investments are needed in new rail terminals equipped to reposition loads or containers on road vehicles and to change the mechanism for allocating public resources for the so called “marebonus” and “ferrobonus”(in favour of sea and rail transport): contributions should be paid directly to those road haulage companies that make the transition to a more modal system.

The issue of labour is also important, with a proposal of great social relevance, such an entry quota dedicated to the road haulage sector to allow non-EU workers to be employed as professional drivers of heavy goods vehicles by Italian companies.

This would fill the chronic shortage of drivers in our country. It seems obvious that the tax and contribution wedge should be reduced for social sustainability and that competitive pressures from EU countries should be alleviated by introducing labour flexibility to enable Italian companies to regain competitiveness.

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