Freight transport needs a push
An extensive dossier from the sector’s associations landed on the table of the new Minister of Infrastructures and Transports
A confirmation of new reference values for operating costs, certainty of payment times for road haulage companies, establishment of a national fund to promote old vehicle replacements, reinstatement of roadworthiness tests for heavy duty vehicles, new life for the Central Committee and the National Register of Road Hauliers, and a stern contrast to the policies regarding traffic bans imposed by Austria.
In short, these are some of the requests from the world of road transport that the new Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Paola De Micheli, found on her desk. All of this, obviously to be discussed through meetings, is contained in a letter from Unatras, a body that represents most of the Freight Transport Associations.
The request for “a push to the freight transport sector" came also from the National Congress of Confartigianato Trasporti last September. The president of Confartigianato Trasporti, Amedeo Genedani, urges the new government to display a consistent commitment towards all the above mentioned issues. Starting with incentives aimed at replacing old vehicles and reducing, at the same time, their environmental impact thus encouraging a “green” transition of the sector as a whole. "We cannot afford - said Genedani - to lose the resources we have obtained in recent years. But we also need strict and targeted controls to combat unfair competition from irregular operators, as well as a widespread simplification of the rules. We suffer from the inefficiencies of the entire transport chain: fighting back means finding the solutions needed to promote a team spirit among both the associations and the road hauliers on the market”.
Maria Teresa Di Matteo, president of the National Register of Road Transport, also spoke on the subject. "The Ministry has always been close to the companies operating in the sector and actively collaborates with the Associations that represent them," said Di Matteo, mentioning the controls on the regularity of companies, resources and projects dedicated to professional training. "But the real challenge - stressed the Minister - is the renewal of the current heavy duty vehicle fleet by scrapping older vehicles in favour of newer ones. For 2019 a fund of 25 million euro has been allocated to promote the purchase of Euro6 vehicles and vehicles powered by alternative fuels. This fund is to be implemented together with ferrobonus and marebonus measures (incentives to promote a combined form of transportation, i.e. rail/road and/or sea/road)".
Along the same line of thought we find transport vehicle manufacturers, represented by Unrae: "Keeping fingers pointed at road vehicles - as they are allegedly more responsible for pollution and poor safety - is anti-historical - explains Franco Fenoglio, who presides over the heavy vehicles area of the association - and frankly quite ridiculous, especially if we look at the transport sector and the dynamics within it; employment, for example: Italy alone is short of about 20.000 professional truck drivers, not to mention a lack of 5,000 specialised maintenance technicians. It is clear that we can no longer be satisfied with political declarations which are not followed by any concrete attention to the real issues at stake, both for the companies working in the sector and the consumers".
"The new Government has been talking, in very general terms, of effective ecological transitions and policies to promote sustainable mobility. This, together with the total absence of any reference to the need for a rational development of the transport system, makes us feel that - once again - the transport system may have to pay an unjustified contribution to an insufficient eco-sustainable policy based on uncertain premises".
"What we ask, therefore, - concludes Fenoglio – is an immediate and constructive discussion with the Parliament and the Government, on all the themes linked to the development of road haulage, starting from the organic reform of the Highway Code, a fundamental law for the sector, guilty of stifling every possibility of technical and administrative innovation, even as far as the implementation of international regulations".
The current crisis may be at the root of the problem, or perhaps because of the difficulty of the sector, but whatever the problem may be, finding drivers is now a real problem. Young people especially are not attracted by the trade: only 18.1% of those who drive a truck in Italy is under 40 years of age. According to data from Infocamere, 66% of owner-drivers are over 50 years old. A generational turnover seems difficult indeed: more than 85% of the drivers in the sector reported that their children have no intention of following in their parent’s footsteps. According to some estimates Italy is short of about 15 thousand truck drivers, a gap filled only in part by workforce coming from Eastern Europe or North Africa.
According to data from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport in Italy today there are 1.17 million active driver cards which should amount to the same number of drivers in the business. Of these, 45.8% are over 50 years old. Moving to C licence holders, the situation appears even gloomier: here, out of 1.2 million drivers, 60% have already reached the age of 50. The same trend is found among owners of sole proprietorships, the so-called owner-drivers. According to Infocamere data, 66% are between 50 and 90 years of age! The consequences of such a trend are manifold. According to INAIL, occupational diseases have increased by 34.4% in the last 5 years, and 58% of all cases in 2017 involved workers over 54 years of age. Over the last 4 years, 8,000 transport companies closed down in Italy, the largest share of which are to be found among sole proprietorships and partnerships, down by about 12,000 units. At the same time, we should considered that often, when the owner retires, the company either closes or is absorbed by more stable realities such as cooperatives, consortia and corporations that, considering the same period have grown by about 4,000 units.
However, the problem seems to go well beyond Italy’s borders: Europe is looking for 150,000 truck drivers according to the Transport Intelligence report which shows that the shortage of truck drivers is a common problem in the continent and especially in its central area. In its research on European road transport entitled European Road Freight Transport 2018, Transport Intelligence talks about the shortage of truck drivers, a problem that is getting worse as retiring drivers are not replaced by younger ones, especially since the younger generations do not find this line of work particularly appealing. According to the research company, most of the vacancies - 127,500 jobs - are concentrated in the 6 countries. The worst situation happens to be in Great Britain, with 52,000 vacancies, followed by Germany, with 45,000 - a number that could increase by 30,000 a year in the coming years due to retirement -. According to the German transport association DSLV, in fact, in the next fifteen years, two-thirds of drivers currently on duty will retire, while only two thousand are obtaining a licence. Scandinavia too, is suffering from a shortage of drivers, with Sweden at the top (5,000 vacancies), followed by Norway (3,000) and Denmark (2,500). Personnel recruitment is moving eastwards, but even there, as many Western companies relocate, resources are being drained.
New CPC exams
Important changes for the exams to obtain the qualification of professional driver of commercial vehicles and buses. This was certified by the Official Gazette issued last August 21, which published the Decree of the Ministry of Transport dated July 5, 2019 amending the rules to achieve the CPC. The main changes involve the introduction of information technology in the examination test: now the questions to which candidates must answer are taken, randomly, from a database of questions. A "true" or "false" questionnaire consisting of seventy questions is thus created, to which the candidate must respond digitally, ticking the letter V or F respectively, in a maximum time of ninety minutes. The text specifies that of the seventy questions, forty concern the topics provided for in Article 7 (letter a paragraph 4) of the Decree dated 20 September 2013, i.e. applicable to both goods and passengers that covers technical aspects, labour standards, prevention and behaviour. The other thirty questions concern letters b and c of the same article and are those dedicated to the type of qualification chosen by the candidate. To pass the exam, the candidate must not give more than seven wrong answers. If the examination is carried out by a driver who already has a qualification for the carriage of goods and desires to qualify for passenger transport too, he only has to answer the thirty questions relating to this last qualification. In the opposite case, i.e. a driver with a CPC passengers who wants to obtain the one for goods, the candidate must answer thirty questions related to letter b of the article in 40 minutes and with a maximum of three errors allowed.
Climate Decree: Discounts on excise duties on diesel in doubt. Hauliers on the war-path
The first draft of the Climate Decree has created serious concerns among road haulage associations. The point that deeply worries the sector is the progressive reduction, until a complete elimination, of the "environmentally harmful" subsidies, those that, directly or indirectly, encourage the use of products considered harmful to the environment, including diesel.
In concrete terms, for road haulage, this means reducing the discount on excise duties, granted quarterly to companies that use industrial vehicles with a total mass greater than 7.5 tons and Euro 3 or more engines. The text released on September 18 provides for a 10% reduction from 2020, with complete elimination by 2040. This discount costs the State 1.2 billion euro every year.
In a note reflecting the common feeling of the trade associations, Conftrasporto states that the measure would be “a resounding own-goal for the State”. The president of Conftrasporto, Paolo Uggè explains that "the linear cuts that concern road haulage are at the very least unacceptable, firstly because the government would fail in its commitment and promises to the category. Secondly, because this would also penalize less polluting heavy vehicles such as Euro VI, with the only result that trucker would refuel abroad, with a loss for Italian fuel distribution companies and for the State coffers”.
What are the proposals from the road haulage sector? A timely alternative: to penalise only the oldest industrial vehicles, which happen to be the “dirtiest”, by cutting excise duty refunds only to them. In this way, companies would be encouraged to renew their fleet, with a clear advantage for the environment, given that 60% of the vehicles circulating in Italy are in the sub-euro IV class. This would also benefit the automotive industry and the State, which would collect VAT on each new generation vehicle purchased. With the linear cuts proposed by the Climate Decree, on the other hand, according to Conftrasporto "the results would be diametrically opposed to those declared and on the environmental front benefits would be null and void".