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The woes of transporters

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N. Ravi Kumar

Shortage of unbranded diesel and rise in prices of other inputs have seen transporters go through testing times

There is a real shortage of drivers. Several trucks are waiting for them

A.M. Harinarayanan TN Mini Lorry Owners Association

Talk of any increase in fuel prices, and the first to go up in arms are transporters. Because, they have to absorb the hike, and cannot pass it on to customers.

Former president of Chennai Goods Transporters Association, K. M. Narasimhan, says diesel accounts for 70 per cent of truckers’ operation costs. While in many businesses, an increase in input cost is automatically passed on to the customers, such a measure is difficult in this industry. Only some corporate customers who enter into long-term contracts with truck operators agree to the clause that transport charges go up when fuel costs increase, and reduce when they come down.

Moreover, business has not exactly been booming, says Mr. Narasimhan. The slowdown in the manufacturing sector has hit them hard; business has fallen 25 to 30 per cent compared to last year.

One area that has witnessed a major slump is movement of import containers and cargo meant for the construction sector. “As against 500 vehicles (of the Association members) used for movement of construction material, it is down to 200 vehicles now. This is mainly due to increasing steel prices,” says R. Sukumar, President, Chennai-Kancheepuram-Tiruvallur Lorry, Tankers, Tippers, Trailers and Vans Association.

Not just diesel; other expenditure, particularly on spare parts, tyres and maintenance, have increased over the past few years, points out Mr. Sukumar. Shortage of unbranded diesel is also an issue. “Many petrol bunks in Chennai sell only branded diesel, which costs an extra Rs. 3 a litre.”

Adding to this long list is the shortage of manpower, particularly drivers. According to A. M. Harinarayanan, President, Tamil Nadu Mini Lorry Owners and Suppliers Association, drivers’ salaries have more than doubled from Rs. 6,000 a few years ago to Rs. 11,000 now. Despite this, the shortage persists. “Several trucks are waiting for drivers,” he added.

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