By Gavin Kelly, Chief Executive: The Road Freight Association
Everyone will recall the saying “All roads lead to Rome” and the grand idea in the 19th Century of linking the Cape to Cairo (Egypt). Roads have been described as the “lifeblood or arteries of the country”. Napoleon, and later German leaders, spent good amounts from their treasuries to ensure good roads crossed their territories: whilst important in the movement of their armies, roads are also crucial in the everyday movement of goods (trade), people (commerce) and the administration of their territories.
Indeed, the concept that all roads led to Rome gave each and every citizen in the vast Roman Empire the perception that they could, quite easily, travel to the capital to ply their business. A more modern reinforcement of this concept is the “Building South Africa through better roads” dictum of the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL).
To date there have been, sadly, numerous reports on the worsening condition of roads in South Africa.
Until very recently, SANRAL was responsible and accountable for the nationally proclaimed routes (designated with an “N”) and some major regional routes (an example being the R21 in Gauteng) – either directly, or through agreements with concessionaires. These roads have been exceptionally well maintained and facilitate the efficient movement between import and export points, manufacturing and agricultural areas, as well as markets and consumers.
The story of all the “other” roads is not as glowing. Secondary routes, regional roads and local authority jurisdictions are regularly mentioned in the media, when roads have collapsed or are in the process of collapsing.
Funding seems to disappear between the allocation and the intended usage thereof, and this is not always due to corruption. Sometimes it is to “save” other failing services such as medical facilities, water and waste treatment, and so the list goes on.
SA’s current road network has created more wear and tear on vehicles
What this does mean, though, is that the road network on which the freight fleet needs to move (or is that really negotiate?) has created more wear and tear on vehicles, especially suspension, tyres and chassis. This means more maintenance, more repairs, more frequent changing of tyres and suspension components: all in all, higher operating costs.
Where operators (transporters) may have got 50 000km out of a tyre in the past, this has dropped to 30 00km (all dependent on which routes are used and how fast these routes deteriorate (or are repaired).
Poor roads also affect delivery times – which impacts on vehicles being able to perform viable transport to and from destinations (the search for paying “return loads” from the primary destination is a huge part of any operator’s life). In some cases, due to the nature of the loads, extra vehicles now ply the same route to ensure perishable goods (especially from the agricultural sector) are not left to rot due to misaligned / delayed logistical arrangements.
Where more vehicles are required to do the work of one, costs increase. Thus, the link is quite simple. Badly maintained roads are directly responsible for increases in our cost of logistics – as a country. This cost is borne by the consumer: it drives inflation, and it pushes our products into a tougher position when competing on the international market.