Truck drivers struggle as roadhouses close

By Jamieson Salter

Australia’s besieged supermarkets and food retailers may now be caught in a web of confusing red tape as another case of coronavirus collateral damage.

Desperately trying to keep ahead of panic buying, trucking companies have been hit by changes to driving conditions and closed state borders.

The drivers are also finding fewer and fewer regular truck stops — with showers, toilet facilities and food — open on the nation’s primary network of roads.

Strathmerton Booth Transport driver trainer Stephen Cartwright said his drivers had seen businesses close.

“Some are reporting that roadhouses are closing showers and toilet facilities, so it certainly is something we have to work around,” he said.

Booth Transport drivers could be on the road delivering raw materials for up to six days at a time.

“Most of our drivers have been advised to take as much food as they can to be self-sufficient,” Mr Cartwright said.

“A food van was set up in a parking bay and one of our drivers gave him a $50 tip, and the owner called to thank us.”

Shepparton freight service Sali and Sons managing director Sam Sali said the majority of his operations travelled from Shepparton to Sydney and back.

“Most of the smaller truck stops are closed, there are other places that are open that’s not convenient for trucks to park,” he said.

Cobram’s Hicks Transport Group owner and managing director Ryan Hicks agreed that finding places to stop was worse than usual in smaller areas.

“Things are not as they were, we just have to make good of what’s available, some of the facilities are cruel for what they’ve done, the drivers are confined to their home and their home is the truck,” he said.

“The food grade service will continue to escalate and some of the warehouses are having difficulty packing orders for dispatch and are hours behind”.

Victorian Transport Association chief executive officer Peter Anderson said truck drivers travelling longer distances needed to be able to refuel and buy food.

“What’s happening is the convenience stores and roadside stops, where these drivers get their normal supplies and wash their clothes, are closing down,” he said.

“The heavy vehicle sector may be 20 per cent of their revenues, it’s based on supply and demand.”

Mr Anderson said the smaller stores would not stay open for a few drivers coming through in the middle of the night.

Drivers who are used to refuelling at certain locations will have to adjust to the change, to avoid running out of fuel on the road.

Mr Anderson said there was uncertainty around what stores remained open, with no central source of information available, but that working groups were discussing the problem.

Truck drivers are also facing issues with working outside fatigue hours and borders being closed.

The Victorian Transport Association worked to have council curfews on road restrictions lifted, to ensure drivers could deliver their products to supermarkets.