TRUCK SECTOR: VULNERABILITY OF DRIVERS TO COMMUNICABLE DISEASES

CUMULATIVE JULY-APRIL08 TRUCKS SALE STANDS AT 4,183

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
May 19 - 25, 2008

Truck fleet of Pakistan is considered as a backbone of transporting cargo within the national boundary and roughly accounts for 96% of the total domestic freight transport. The heavy and light trucks are used to transport trade consignments from one place to another. While total number of registered trucks in Pakistan does not cross a 200,000 figure, during 10 months of this fiscal year cumulative sale of trucks stood at 4,183 units.

During this period of July 07-April 08, however, 17,218 pick-ups were sold. Pick-ups are usually used as transportation means for light weight freight, but as they equally are utilized for other commercial purposes and undertake no significant cargo transportation when compared to multi-axle trucks its head is separately described.

The importance of truck fleets in propelling trade and industrial transactions is clearly evident from its distance coverage in a given time period. Only cargo movement through trucks from Karachi and Lahore is too remarkable to outpace total passenger trips. The distance covered by this movement is far longer than that of passenger trips.

Under this statistical inference, truck sector of the country seems to have a great potential to be explored in order to bring it par excellence. But, paradoxically annual production and sales of trucks are presenting a different story. The biggest factor underlying to this under growth is time-delay in fleet replacement. Over 55% of trucks plying on the motorways, national highways, and roads are over 10 years old and this actually slows down growth in sales.

Without question, the freight capacity of new trucks is higher as compared to the old ones. But, on roads nationwide excessive loads outstripping carriage's boundary are commonly carried by outmoded trucks.

During the aforementioned period, Hino trucks depicted higher sale leads by 2,156 units sold, followed by Nissan 973, Isuzu 691, and Master 399. The sales results only relate to the member companies of Pakistan Automotive Manufacturing Association. Yet, sale of locally assembled has far more better edge over imported trucks. Similarly, in small freight carrying vehicles (pick-ups) sale Suzuki Ravi scored with red colour of 9,754 sold units, leaving behind Toyota Hilux (1,616), Hyundai Shehzore (5,258), Master (501), and Dong Feng (89).

Despite historical data of trucks sold exhibit growing trend the growth rate has not been in accordance with the economic progress. As soon as industrial activities get expedited need of transportation and communication also increases to handle multiplying demands of logistics. Conversely, economic spark in the country could not ignite as much the capacity utilization of truck assembling or manufacturing plants. Truck could be a better means for freight transportation if hired at competitive rates. Since old models consume extra fuel for combusting engine, mileage-wise transportation adds on overheads. In addition, extra fuel consumption means rising import bill for a country like Pakistan. In the diesel driven vehicles, trucks constitute 34% of the vehicle population while station wagons, buses, heavy pick-ups and jeeps make 20%, 19%, 15% and 12% respectively.

Even official formulas of modernizing this crucial sector have yet to be effectuated. Recently, government planned to provide trucking sector industrial privileges. Truck terminal located at sea hinterland of Karachi, Mauripur, is known to be the largest stop of cargo trucks across Pakistan. Thousands of cargos daily come in and out the station. Private investors with little government surveillance and guidance manage affairs of the station. Informally dealt with unsystematic ways, dismal state of affairs in the surroundings is evidently anecdote of mismanagement. Not only has this station, but as many truck terminals, especially in Karachi, reflected the government apathy towards rehabilitating these engines of economic growth.

Besides environmental concerns, human resource development, financial issues the major issue related to vehicle examination system and registration has inflicted trucking sector with disorder. Transport ministry has already taken cognizance of unlawful fitness of commercial vehicles. With collusion of officials, commercial drivers get hold of fitness certificates for their overrun vehicles. Deep entrenched malady in motor vehicle examination system is opaque and therefore government was once proposed to hand over motor vehicle examination authority to the private sector. Given the fact that private investor seeks commercial benefits out from takeover, the question is can private interest become conscious of state responsibility to public welfare or whether could it sacrifice profit for the larger benefits of society? Seemingly, the question may have future implication but for now perhaps public-private partnership may prove itself effective.

Trained inspectors should supervise directly the examination process in order to impound trucks exceeding their travelling life. Generally, the vehicle examination activity is undertaken at the terminal, most of which is surrounded by residential abodes. Proper station in this regard should be established to turn examination process into a professional engagement. Apart from this, physical fitness of truck drivers is also callously overlooked. Living around health hazardous surroundings, particularly the intercity truck drivers travel thousand kilometres frequently with a snail pace, which itself demands unbreakable patience. In return what they gain as bounty is very nominal monthly income of below Rs.6,000. According to Greenstar Social Marketing survey findings majority of long distanced drivers are married, live at the truck terminals speak-free and most of the time indulge in extra marital sexual practices. Obviously, they become more susceptible to communicable diseases like HIV. Several other survey reports bear up the higher probability of long distanced drivers of being vulnerable to HIV. Uneducated about and uncared of prevention methods, they mostly fall prey to contagious viral infections.

Financial assistance by government and regular social workshops by CSOs/NGOs will possibly improve the working condition of the freight transporters. Indeed, provision of trucks at subsidized prices will surely encourage them to replace the existing fleet. By bringing truck sector into mainstream economy, government can likely to uncap a source of tax revenue. But, foremost priority should be given to invest later to earn.