How world tackles driver shortage-1
A universal challenge, this is. Even in the pre-Covid era. The only difference was that it did not attract high-decibel attention as it did since China unpacked the life-snatching pandemic knowingly or unknowingly.
Driver shortage numbers are astronomical given the size of the nation’s economy; in a way, this Arabic number showcases the prosperity of its netizens and, therefore, their desires and needs. Needs are the basic items to survive: food, medicine, and shelter. Desires are, obviously, beyond needs without which life will not be snatched away by death.
When the entire world caught in the web of Covid end-2019, followed by nationwide lockdown, global netizens locked themselves inside four walls and a ceiling, irrespective of the size of their dwelling, to escape exiting the human world. Factories and offices closed. Schools and colleges closed. Neighborhood mom and pop shops and mega-malls downed shutters. Trains halted. Planes grounded. Ships sailed on high seas, though, mostly from China, the world’s manufacturing hub to every single nation on earth. That was the kind of dependence on China the world has come to.
Not only was the industry practicing the famous Japanese export: just-in-time or JIT, but all types of global citizens. Buy their requirements in small quantities. No need to stock up for a week or month. Courtesy, the booming e-commerce business. Online buying of everything under the sun. That too, quick delivery assured. In pre-Covid, quickest meant maybe 24–48 hours for non-cooked items.
The buying habits changed overnight during Covid. Cloistered between walls, the families to eke out living require tangible goods: food and medicine basically daily. These cannot be forsaken. Giving them up translates into starvation, leading to death. Hence, worldwide rulers exempted road transportation to ensure a seamless supply of essentials from strict covid-related lockdown: from manufacturing hubs to mother warehouses; then onto regional hubs; then, local distribution hubs; and finally to one’s doorstep through the last mile delivery route, based on one’s online booking order.
Thus road transport (not passenger, but cargo movement) remained operational throughout Covid. Here again, there were challenges. The biggest one was the absence of drivers to ferry goods. Drivers are human, too, and the fear of Covid equally kept them confined to their home. Goods to move. Trucks available. But, no drivers. Trucks, however advanced, need men behind wheels. Despite all the euphoric talk about driverless trucks, this technological advancement using Artificial Intelligence and the various algorithm was of no use even in the tech-matured Europe or the United States. Why? Because they are not 100% safe yet to deploy on roads. Period.
Bloomberg reports in a January 2022 dispatch: “Shipping companies and software developers are experimenting with self-driving trucks as a way to solve a driver shortage worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, drawing fire from safety advocates who call the technology a risk to motorists.”(1)
Having said that, it does not mean efforts are not underway. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show 2022 held in Los Angeles, there was a lot of talk and display of autonomous trucks. Various alliances between techies and global auto giants spilled out of this jamboree. Fleet Owner reports from the sidelines of CES 2022 quoting early advocates of autonomous trucks, basically to address the unmitigated driver shortage.(2)
There is no lack of interest in debating the future of transportation, and the concept of the driverless truck is a hot topic. Alliances are “targeting a driverless commercial launch by the end of 2023. And while almost all public testing of robotic trucks includes a safety driver and engineer or another monitor in the cab … the road to success … is driverless. We don’t have a commercial product with a driver because these sensors are expensive. Having an expensive, kitted-out truck with a safety driver is not a product.” Bingo!
Okay, autonomous trucks or driverless trucks won’t happen tomorrow. Or the day after. But the crisis is here and now.
How Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom is addressing this crisis? We will examine this scope in the next dispatch.
(To Be Continued)