Community is on board
Before March of this year, recent generations of Australians read about wartime rationing in their school text books. The idea they themselves would be unable to walk into a supermarket and obtain staple items seemed far-fetched.
Then came COVID-19 and the shock of empty supermarket shelves, as panic buying of basic items like pasta, rice, toilet paper and cleaning products set in. Even in recent weeks, we have again witnessed examples of this behaviour as concern over COVID-19 outbreaks caused some consumers to unnecessarily start stockpiling items.
Those working in freight transport know all too well that behind every product line and well-stocked retail store is a supply chain that involves multiple personnel, numerous transactions, different transport modes and complex planning and scheduling, all of which are required to transport products from their point of origin to the shelf, or to the consumer’s doorstep.
The most pressing challenge for logistics companies providing services to retail outlets at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was getting stock into stores quickly enough to satisfy extraordinarily heightened levels of consumer demand.
Curfews that prohibit deliveries during certain hours proved a significant barrier to addressing that challenge.
Fortunately, this barrier quickly addressed, and within about a week, governments took action to suspend curfews and give logistics companies the flexibility needed to facilitate overnight deliveries.
ALC has long advocated for the removal of such blanket restrictions, many of which date from the 1980s — an era of different considerations. Certainly, the ‘night-time economy’ (let alone a 24/7 one) was not a factor 40 years ago.
Inflexible regulations like curfews do nothing to recognise or incentivise take-up of new and emerging vehicle technologies that can be deployed to undertake freight tasks less intrusively.
For instance, several larger operators are keen to pursue more rapid uptake of electric delivery vehicles, which have lower emissions and very low noise levels when operating.
But there is little reason for them to invest in such technology when the blanket application of operational restrictions does nothing to recognise these advantages.
Like other industries, logistics operators and their customers are adjusting to the reality of operating in the COVID-19 world and responding to changes in the way consumers wish to access their essentials.
COVID-19 has altered consumer demand and expectations, particularly around home deliveries of essential items including groceries. Increased demand for those services will remain post-pandemic.
At least for the foreseeable future, COVID-19 has also altered public transport patronage.
With commuters potentially reluctant to use public transport, we need to consider what that will mean for congestion on our roads — and ensure logistics operators can operate outside of peak times.
Keeping curfews off will give logistics operators and their customers a greater capacity to minimise their impact on other road users. Simply defaulting to blanket restrictions designed for a pre-pandemic world would be a retrograde policy response.
As the Prime Minister himself noted recently, when the curfews were removed in March, “the sun came up the next day. It was extraordinary.”
Indeed, industry has had virtually no negative feedback where restrictions have been relaxed, because it has not abused the flexibility and has sought to minimise impacts.
The community is clearly also supportive of a new approach, with research commissioned by ALC showing that 71 per cent of respondents support permanently removing curfews on overnight deliveries and 62 per cent support for the removal of other operational restrictions, including bans on heavy vehicle access along certain routes.
Clearly, greater flexibility can work. This is the right time for industry and governments to work towards a more balanced system — flexible enough to accommodate modern economic realities and agile enough to harness advantages presented by modern vehicle technology.