Europe’s international trucking arteries are under increasing pressure as border delays increase and the threat of quarantine deters drivers from embarking on long distance international routes.
Matthias Maedge, advocacy director at the International Road Transport Union (IRU), told Lloyd’s Loading List in an interview last Thursday thatthe flow of freight in Europe had been worsening by the day.
“The situation is deteriorating and actions are not being coordinated by authorities,” he said. “The result is that often drivers do not know what to do, where they can cross and what measures are applying.
“There are also huge traffic jams with several hours of waiting time in all directions.”
For much of the last week there has been substantial delays at national borders within the EU as check points are set up in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus, according to a live border delays map created by logistics visibility specialist Sixfold: https://covid-19.sixfold.com/.
Queues at one border crossing between Poland and the Czech Republic were 11 kilometres long earlier this morning, although the waiting times at many other EU internal borders were considerably shorter today than at times last week – when there were reportedly queues of more than 50 kilometres long.
Freight is getting through
Freight is still mostly continuing to get through even from the southern European countries most affected by coronavirus.
However, Maedge believes the delays and extra checks are having the effect of choking Europe’s trucking capacity at a time when keeping supply chains open and optimised has never been more important. Moreover, the threat of drivers being quarantined and cut off from their families is now discouraging many from undertaking international deliveries.
“The hours-long waiting times at borders are considered working time, and drivers still need to respect the driving and rest time rules,” he said.
“We do have reports from various border crossings inside and outside of the EU that trucks are getting held up for many hours in queues up to 60 km long due to new restrictions and controls primarily related to passenger transport.
“Additionally, drivers are quarantined in many cases. We are talking about thousands who can’t drive for 14 days when returning from international trips, although not showing symptoms.”
With demand for all sorts of products on the rise as Europe’s consumers panic buy, unless action is taken to ease the flow of freight by road, Maedge predicts shortages of some products could appear.
“We can’t speculate about what might happen across all European supply chains in the weeks and months to come, but if the current situation persists or escalates, a shortage of supplies is inevitable,” he said.
“Significant delays will have a negative impact on all supply chains and their clients, including retail chains. Our main concern remains that the critical goods, including food and medical supplies, keep arriving.”
He called on industry and governments to work together more closely to ensure that supply chains and borders remain open and efficient, especially for essentials, while ensuring that drivers and workers at borders and depots were kept safe.
“Drivers are already doing a fantastic job in getting supplies through, sometimes in difficult situations and with long waits – we salute their dedication and responsibility,” he added.
“In order for supply chains to stay active, the working conditions of drivers need, now more than ever, to be considered.
“There are many examples of drivers not being allowed to use the toilet, breakroom or even to drink water at facilities they bring their goods to. Making sure they get access to basic essentials is one of our key asks.”
In its latest COVID-19 update today, Agility Logistics highlighted that partial or full land border closures “are impacting cross-border road freight in many regions”, adding: “We have seen partial or full land border closures in countries around the world. Even where borders remain open, extra border checks have become more common.
“In some countries, state-of-emergency or lock-down measures are causing local pick-up delays. This issue is particularly acute in Europe. Border closures have also led to capacity constraints and significant delivery delays in markets around the world, from Europe, to South East Asia, to Latin America.”
Guidance to transport operators
The IRU has been offering guidance to all transport operators to ensure they implement the highest health and safety standards for loading and unloading goods (particularly in quarantine areas), ensure documents are carried in compliance with health rules, and to ensure traceability in recording and maintaining of all driver movements.
“And we’re asking governments to coordinate and clearly communicate changes to rules and enforcement procedures for drivers across Europe as they happen,” said Maedge.
“Our main concern is to bring the drivers home safely. This requires flexibility on driving and rest time rules and lifting driving bans.
“IRU is also providing regular updates to drivers as quickly as possible through our member network.”
Maedge added, “Our drivers are committed to keep working in this crisis situation, but holding up trucks unnecessarily at borders is harming our industry’s work to keep supply chains moving in this crisis.
“We have proactively raised this with the EU and governments, and regret that solutions to this problem could not be agreed (last week).”