Up Next: Truckzilla Causing a Transportation Chaos

Created: 08.July 2021

I am in no position to debate the efficacy of lockdowns as a means to fight a pandemic. I will be content to say that there currently is a lockdown and that it is the method best deemed to combat the spread of the Covid 19 virus in Malaysia.

In particular, the latest lockdown has paralised the state of Selangor. What is surprising is that the transport industry has been asked to park their vehicles for a while. Truck and bus makers have been asked to close down their offices. And more importantly their workshops. Permits, as I learned, to open up the workshops have been denied or are being given out slowly.

Through several interviews I have learned that the ports are full. So full, that they have filled 130 percent of capacity. Warehouses and depots are filling up as well. One source tells me that container movement is restricted between the Haulier’s depot and the port. Should a client not have permission to operate, their goods are to be parked with the haulier.

Don’t take my word for it, but I expect the following things to happen. Sorry for not providing any scientific insights or statistics. I merely apply the scenario planning method made famous by a large company making fuels.

Driver Shortage made Worse
Commercial vehicle drivers are oftentimes paid per trip. When the truck stands still, the trucker will have to find other means of making some money. As I heard from the bus industry, drivers have just taken up other jobs and getting them back behind the wheel may be tricky. I would expect the same to happen with truck drivers. Would you blame them? When we get the containers rolling again, I would not be surprised if many companies will report that a good chunk of their fleet is paused. Not because there is no work, on the contrary, there will be an avalanche, but because they have nobody to pilot the vehicles.

Micro Chaos at Transporter Level
With JIT and very little material held at the conveyor belt, manufacturers will be running out of material needed very soon. And then the scramble for the parts needed will set in. Typically, transporters pick up a load, move it and drop it off. Now they have to store containers and goods in their yard. Many may not be prepared for this, lacking a system to track where the containers are (Why would they. Normally, that is not an issue). I would think that these containers will be delivered strictly according to LIFO. How long transporters can continue to offer their yards as storage is going to be an interesting scenario too.

Set up for Failure
Any press release on the opening of a workshop tells us how many bays there are and what the daily capacity of trucks serviced a day is. From such information I can deduct that there are hundreds of trucks daily that are being fixed, serviced and kept in good running condition. Stating the obvious, a truck is being send for service for a reason and at a specific time. Never mind that one might void warranties when exceeding the recommended mileage. I am more worried about the dozens or hundreds of vehicles that will continue to operate without being send in for service, thus inching closer to a potential failure with every trip they make. Breakdowns do happen, even with well maintained vehicles. However, at the moment, getting these back up and running is a task that is made impossible. Workshops will be faced with an avalanche of trucks that need fixing while the truck population able to move goods will be significantly decimated. Just as an aside: trucks in Malaysia are on average twice as old as their brethren in Europe, hence the chances of them having problems….

Spoiled Goods
Needless to say that there will be goods that will be spoilt if they cannot be moved or consumed. Getting those discarded, recycled and to the landfill will be a massive task by itself. And as I have learned in my interview with KDEB Waste Management, getting rubbish out of the way is a crucial task. There are health hazards associated with waste that is not handled swiftly and correctly, even if we are not talking about goods that are dangerous in the first place.

Penalising for Reduced Capacity
I will be the first one to tell you that rules are there to be followed. I will also advocating that those who break rules need to be punished. For instance, I am very active in the "Stupid Parking Idiots" FaceBook page were members call out people parked illegally. This morning (Thursday), I received news that law enforcement officers are making the rounds to check if transport companies are complying with SOPs, regulations and if proper paperwork is in place. No issue so far. Fines have been dished out and companies been asked to pay up for violations of rules (Ok, still in agreement). However, I hear that several transport companies have been ordered to shut down operations for several days. Each such company is a few dozen containers that are not being moved everyday. It can be expected that the violation of the SOPs would be a result of confusion and that there is no malintent. Again, I am ok with the officers enforcing. But maybe in the case of transport companies, shutting them down is going to make things much worse, VERY fast? Keep them running, issue higher fines maybe?

Port of Call (For Help)
Referring to above, the ports are already strained by the containers they have stored till now. More containers will arrive as vessels come to discharge their cargo. If it was a tough job storing these up until now, there will be more trouble. Getting the right containers out of the port and from the port onto the ships is going to be an increasingly difficult task. Just imagine a bookshelf that has not just one row of books, but now two. Getting to your favourite titles may require you to remove entire rows of books. You may not even know where you put things as the regular, marked spots are all taken and you just had to park things “somewhere”.
Let’s hope that my predictions are somewhat off and more a light reading. However, if the current lockdown is prolonged, with no permits given en masse to move goods, then we may have some real issues developing.

What do you think? Please put your thoughts into an email to me!

Stay safe, drive safe!