A quick history of Indian truckers and the Indian trucking industry. India is a vast country with a range of geographical variations. Agricultural lands are usually located in the interior of the country far from any central cities. Most manufacturing units and industries are also located in the interiors to make use of tax exemptions, cheap land value and manufacturing costs. Both of these industries are completely dependent on good trucks and roads or a fast railway system that can ferry fresh produce, crops and manufactured goods to the cities for sale. Cities that are located close the sea can easily access fresh seafood and imported goods but all of these goods are also dependent on trucks that will haul these goods to interior cities where these goods are unavailable and have to be trucked in.
The importance of the trucking industry in India The trucking or road delivery system in India is an integral part and parcel of transport. The only other method of transportation that is comparably faster and cheaper is rail transport. But there are problems there too. Even though, rail transport is cheaper, improvements have not been made in that transport option and most manufacturing and consumer industries rely on trucking to make sure that goods reach their destination. In the last few years, India has also improved its economy, streamlined its production and improved local and national roadways to facilitate the quicker transport of goods.
Accordingly in the last decade, road freight exploded by a growth rate of 11.9% as compared to 1.4% on Rail. Roads carry more than 70% of the freight in India and it has a share of about 4.46 in the Indian GDP. At last count, India has more than one crore to three crore truckers all over the country and they frequently transport goods over into neighboring countries as well. The number of trucks that were purchased to ferry goods also increased by as much as 20% in the last decade with 36 lakh new trucks being registered in the last two decades. Impact on truckers Even though the industry is so vast, it is riddled with problems. The sheer fragmented nature of the industry means that more than Rs 2, 00,000 crores will be required to streamline the trucking sector and provide equal salaries and opportunities to truckers.
A few of the common problems seen in the trucking industry include the following- • Most trucks are owned by private operators and truckers are liable to the whims and fancies of the owners regarding salaries and transport procedures. According to the latest statistics, 89% of the truck driving industry was run by operators who owned five vehicles or less while 6% of the business and industry was operated by companies that owned 20 trucks or more. As most of the business is controlled by independent operators, this has given rise to agents who vie and bid for a transport contract by putting the lowest price possible. This would have been economically viable but in the recent shaky economy and subsequent hikes in petrol prices; most private truckers have been facing severe losses.
• On an average, each trucker covers about 230-340 km per day which they may push to increase the distance and trips they take. This distance is also much lower than any distance covered by a trucker in a developed country due to poor roads, bad weather and no logistical support along the route. The National Highway system of India forms only 2-5% of the entire road network but is handles over 45% of the entire freight transport result in a huge backlog of trucks as they move around on the congested network. Due to the backlog, most truckers spend weeks on the road transporting goods and then returning with a full load back to their starting point. On an average, more than 37% of all trucks spend 5-8 days on a trip while 26% took about 8 days to return back to their starting point.
Average speeds vary to about 20 mph which far lower than the 60 mph average seen in developed countries with a good road connection. The good news though is that road conditions may improve with US $13billion funding in 1998 which was used to improve highways in Mumbai, to create North-South and East-West corridors and from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Silchar to Porbander. • The problem of congestion is also seen in the twelve major ports of India which handle most of the shipping that comes into India. In the year 2007-2008, the traffic at all the major Indian ports was estimated to be about 333 million tones. A part of the shipping is also relegated to the 184 minor ports which again do not have the best roadways and facilities to speed up unloading of containers. Pre-birthing delays and larger ship turnaround times in the ports are common leading to a jam with truckers who wait for the containers to unload. The large capacity of shipping jammed into twelve cities means that truckers are also perpetually delayed. •
A serious shortage of truck drivers. In India, the trucking industry and truckers are considered to be a very low-paid job with long hours and a lot of hard work. According to industry experts, in recent years, the trucking industry has improved with 5.6 million vehicles on the road but with a severe shortage of about 700,000 to about 800,000 drivers. The problem was compounded by the Ministry Of Road Transport And Highways in 2007. New rules were enforced which required all truckers to be at least Grade 10 educated for carrying dangerous chemicals like petrol and gas. For other consumer goods, drivers had to complete their education till Grade 7. This problem is steadily improving with private truck manufacturing companies taking the initiative to teach and train new drivers. As a result, large companies like Ashok Leyland and Tata Motors (which are currently the market leaders for truck manufacturing in India) have set up private driving education firms for interested candidates to train them and provide candidates with jobs.
Most popular brands of trucks in India The market leader for manufacturing and sales of trucks is currently TATA motors with Ashok Leyland chasing close on it heels. In the last two years, the huge potential in the Indian market has also lured in foreign truck makers like Daimler, MAN, Navistar and Volvo who are promising lighter and much more petrol and diesel- efficient trucks.