Prime Mover Magazine

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Peter Anderson

Transport industry sees COVID-19 silver lining

August 2020

As this column goes to print it has been just over six months since the first tangible impacts of coronavirus began to take hold in Australia.

The VTA had just completed its annual State Conference in the first week of March, and we had aligned with our fellow state-based associations to prepare operators for the adverse impacts COVID-19 was likely to unleash on the transport industry.

Since then the industry has been through many of the peaks and troughs experienced by other sectors, however as an essential service transport was fortunately spared the level of economic devastation experienced by businesses in Australia and around the world.

Indeed, many parts of our industry have been busier than ever, ensuring Australians have maintained access to essential household goods during lockdown, emphasising the importance of continuity in our domestic and international supply chains.

The VTA has played an important role working with stakeholders to develop sensible policy to support transport operators and those they employ during the pandemic.

We successfully advocated for heavy vehicle curfew restrictions to be lifted and are urging the Victorian and local governments to maintain this beyond the September deadline when they will be reviewed.

We initiated a Driver Exchange program to encourage resource sharing across our industry and to keep transport workers employed, which has been replicated by several states.

And we advocated for policy outcomes to help operators manage cash flow and survive COVID-19, such as the cancellation of planned increases to the road user charge and other support programs.

Sensing a thirst for information from our membership, the VTA has also been running member surveys to benchmark sentiment among the industry.

Our first survey in April revealed most operators were buoyant about the sector recovering, and I am pleased to report this optimism has improved, with our latest survey in June showing positive sentiments about recovery.

Among our key findings were that 60 per cent of respondents expect international trade to increase over the next four months, an increase of 15 per cent since April; only 30 per cent of members expect staffing levels to decrease over the next three months; and 80 per cent of members said they intended to invest in new equipment before the end of the year, a healthy 16 per cent improvement.

The transport industry should be encouraged by the general improvement in optimism expressed by respondents, particularly the willingness by operators to invest in their people and their businesses despite the economic headwinds.

When operators are prepared to put their hands in their pockets and purchase new capital equipment it suggests that there is renewed confidence in and from our sector.

The extension of the instant asset write-off until the end of the year by the Commonwealth has no doubt been a factor in this, and we thank the government for extending the scheme and giving businesses the tangible economic support they needed to invest with confidence.

I was also very encouraged that members were reporting minimal losses of customers, and with their willingness to support each other and work together to survive the pandemic. Some business downturn was always expected, however the general sentiment from members is that their customers are loyal, and that in many cases their relationships have become stronger.

This demonstrates the genuine appreciation between customers and suppliers that we are all in this together, and that by sharing our problems and working together we have better prospects for recovery.

Such an attitude has likely given operators confidence to retain their people and limit staff reductions where possible, as evidenced by the small improvement we saw in members’ outlook on their staffing levels over the next three months since our first survey.

Along with the general improvement in optimism members reported, it was encouraging that complacency has not set in with more respondents reporting they have built contingency plans for less revenue over the next four months. Operators appreciate that trading conditions can quickly change, as we are seeing now in Victoria with community transmission rates of COVID-19 on the rise.

Of course, it will take years to recover the social and economic losses we have all sustained, but it is important to celebrate and amplify good news where we can. And that operators are seeing the silver lining of coronavirus is good news indeed.

Peter Anderson

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