Truckers in China often face many trials of both patience and endurance. While life on the road can be difficult for any trucker, those in China face many additional challenges that are unique to their country as well as those common to all in the industry.
Most trucks found in China are owned and driven by their owners. Drivers often have homes and families in the countryside but spend many days in a row away from the family. The owner-operator often hires a second driver to keep the truck moving as much as possible. The two often take turns driving and sleeping so trucks may be on the road 24 hours per day.
Owner operators are paid on a per trip basis. From the contracted amount, the driver must pay diesel costs (approximately one third higher than in the US, but lower than in the UK.) Government regulations to lower the cost of diesel fuel can lead to shortages. In addition, the driver is responsible for the costs of tolls for using highways that can cost as much as $200 US.
Loads are found at local freight markets, where they are posted on chalkboards by small intermediary companies. These intermediary companies are often family operated. The owner of the business works to develop personal connections with factories where goods are produced. These low tech companies are unregulated and may do business without use of a computer.
Once the owner operator contracts the load, he must wait for it to be loaded. The process of loading the truck in China is often done by hand and slow. It can take several hours or even days between contracting the load and departing from the factory. Most trucks pull a flat bed trailer. Goods are placed on the platform, covered by tarps and secured using rope in a process that may take another two hours. The flatbed offers the versatility to carry practically any load the owner can contract.
Competition between owner operators has increased in the last ten years, making the profits of driving a truck even less. Many barely break even in the process. Drivers may have trucks altered to increase the number of goods and profits associated with each trip.
It is common for the trucker to pay several fines on most trips. Common violations include overloading as well as others. Tickets are normally $30 US and while they provide revenue for the local police departments do little to discourage further infractions.
Roadside services areas provide food and other services specifically for drivers. Often food found in these areas is much more expensive than food found in the town itself. Drivers might choose shrink-wrapped meat and instant noodles or a cafeteria-style buffet for their meals. Operators can expect several roadside hawkers offering snacks drivers can buy in their long waits while stuck in traffic and waiting for the traffic to clear. In some cases, traffic clearing has taken days or even weeks.
The roads in parts of china travel over some rugged terrain. Drivers often find themselves on two lanes that are bumpy and wind around the mountains leading to long traffic jams. While the government is working to provide better roads, the task is massive. Efficient highways through the mountains will require very expensive tunnels and bridges. New highways are built offering flat and fast roads that are filled beyond capacity, almost immediately.
In order to pay for many of these new roads, China has instituted more toll roads. Currently 66% of the tolled miles of road are found in China. Drivers must include the toll rate when bidding for a job and then pay the cost out of the pocket. Currently, the government is working to decrease or eliminate tolls due to their effects on consumer prices.
The tough road conditions, necessity of overloading trucks and small profits often cause trucks to see heavy use with little maintenance. Owner-operators must choose between saving money and avoiding a breakdown. Since they do not have the money to buy quality parts, many drivers select used or cheap parts when it is time to make a replacement.
Many truckers in China feel they are stuck in the industry. They are unable to save enough money to expand the business as needed to get ahead. Many drivers have been in the industry for years, but have invested all their money into the truck and keeping it running. They might have few other skills on which they could rely for income.
As truckers in other locations, those in China find that rising fuel costs cut further into dwindling profits. Although the cost of diesel fuel is less than in the UK, it is approximately 1/3 more than the cost of fuel in the US. In 2011, government interventions to decrease the cost of diesel lead to nationwide shortages of the fuel.
The ports along the coast of China allow transportation of many materials, which are loaded from ocean going vessels to trucks. Truckers may haul coal, iron ore and grain. In addition, containers and roll on roll offer operations between the islands and mainland take place here. The container transport system is particularly popular in the areas, especially in Dalian, Tianjin, Qingdao, Shanghai, Ningbo, Xiamen and Shenzhen.
In addition to the ocean ports, the rivers of China add even more ports. While the country has over 2,000 ports nationwide, only 130 are currently open to foreign ships.
While truckers face many hardships no matter where they are located, those in China face additional difficulties. The traffic can quickly eat away the small profits the owner operator may gain by hauling a load. Tolls, fuel costs and food on the road can also be expensive. Truckers from the US with the vast interstate highway system offering free passage across the nation would face culture shock if forced to drive long haul across the small two lane highways of China. Most Chinese truckers do not dream of their children following them in the career due to the difficulties they face.