HGV crisis hidden for years



The HGV driver crisis, which has been gathering pace over the last two decades, has been largely hidden due, in no small part, to effective transport management by the freight forwarding community. But the situation has been exacerbated by Brexit and tax changes which encouraged 20 thousand European drivers to return to the continent and the loss of 30 thousand driving tests, during lockdowns, which has critically elevated the shortage of HGV drivers to 100 thousand.

The impact of the HGV driver shortage is being felt increasingly by the general public and in every business vertical and is particularly pronounced for the freight sector. 

With driver shortages hitting local collections and deliveries, it is impacting air freight and there are significant capacity issues for pan-European transport. But it is the sea freight sector and in particular the movement of containers that has been hardest hit.

Hauliers have been increasing driver pay rates, offering retention and loyalty bonuses and improving working conditions in a bid to halt the outflow of experienced personnel, which is being reflected in the costs incurred and may reflect a longer term trend to make the industry more attractive to a new generation of drivers.

Changes to the HGV driver testing process, recently announced by the government, will speed up the process and could mean an extra 1,600 drivers joining the industry every week. But there are lots of caveats attached to that figure and its benefits will only become evident over the long-term.

The challenge remains, too much demand and insufficient capacity, and managing the potential impact of this equation on supply chain operations. In the short-term the situation is very likely to worsen, before it gets better and, even if young people and women can be attracted to the profession, it may take up to two years to reach equilibrium.

With over three decades of shipping line and forwarding transport experience, Metro’s transport team is led by Simon Balfe, one of the most knowledgable volume movers in the UK.

Despite the breadth of experience, haulage contacts and relationships across the Metro team, they are increasingly challenged in locating sufficient haulage resource, with ‘merchant’ supply often going to the highest bidder and line haulage becoming increasingly unreliable.

Prior to the pandemic Metro’s on-time delivery KPI hovered around the 99% mark. Today, despite the best efforts of Simon’s team, it has slipped to 80%, which is still far higher than the industry average of 50%.

A significant factor in this fall, is the failure of line haulage reliability. Historically (right or wrong) shipping line controlled collections and deliveries (line haulage) has been perceived to be the ‘gold standard’ in container transport and costed accordingly.

But the pandemic is tarnishing even this ‘gold standard’ as lines increasingly stop offering a ‘to-door’ service, or fail to honour confirmed bookings, which is having a profound impact on unlucky shippers, who are often left facing additional and unexpected charges.

We are increasingly called on to assist shippers who have had line haulage cancelled, or have received no prior notice of its withdrawal and have been offered new bookings, several weeks forward, leaving them to wait for their goods and the likelihood of rent and demurrage charges. 

Even though the extended time is a direct result of the line’s own actions, they are not sympathetic to writing off these charges, as the shipper always has the option to arrange their own transport.

Although this option does incur lo/lo charges and can be more expensive than line haulage, merchant haulage can potentially offset the rent and demurrage of an extended wait on the quay or terminal.

We work with a number of selected long-term haulage partners across the UK to give us access to the widest pool of equipment and driver resource at the UK’s primary container ports, to offer cost-effective and efficient merchant haulage services. 

To learn more or discuss your situation, please contact Elliot Carlile or Grant Liddell (or Simon Balfe, who leads our UK multimodal transport operations) to talk you through the options.