Transportation forms the backbone of any large economy. It touches the lives of every citizen in some way or the other – whether they are shopping at a mall, buying groceries at the kirana store or withdrawing money from an ATM, it is all facilitated by trucks. Most people do not give it a second thought, but logistics contributes nearly 13% to India’s GDP. Furthermore, any disruption in trucking also has a direct impact on the automobile industry that in turn affects core industries like metals, power, etc. It is thus safe to say, that the health of the transportation industry is a good reflection on the health of the overall economy of the country.
A respectful job, was once considered
Historically speaking, truck driving was not a job but more of a lifestyle choice – almost akin to a job in the armed forces. It was considered a respectful, slightly dangerous, manly and, most importantly, an aspirational profession for young boys from states such as Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, UP, Bihar, etc. It offered them a good source of income, a sense of freedom, and the chance to explore the country – something they would not get in any other profession in their village. It was a job of privilege and high social status to be responsible for the maintenance and safety of their truck, and timely delivery of their cargo.
Truck drivers thus attracted the best amongst men – the most hardworking, responsible, honest, physically fit and ambitious. The drivers treated their trucks as their homes. They would sleep in it, cook in it and also entertain their friends in the truck. They made a decent income as per the living standards back then, and they worked hard for it by driving 10 to 12 hours per day.
What brought in grey days
However, things changed. The economy expanded in the late 90s, creating more alternate employment options for the youth. Indian roads became congested which led to poor driving conditions and more accidents. Drivers became used to the new age comforts and they now wanted money for mobile recharge and meals at fancy dhabas. However, new age management principles dictated cost-cuts based on supply-demand and led to a gradual plateauing of driver salaries to Rs. 10-15K per month. On-road unreceipted corruption charges by police and government officials also increased which could not be proven by drivers and thus their integrity started being questioned. Drivers were branded as chors and liars. The driver community had lost their social status, their respect, their income and now the community no longer attracted the “best amongst men”. Drivers resigned to this fate and began freely adapting to their tags of chors and liars to earn their rightly deserved incomes. Moreover, with fixed salaries and no performance evaluations, these drivers now had a disincentive to work harder than their fellow companions, resulting in gradually decreasing performance levels.
Fortunately, the situation has not gone unnoticed by the industry. There is a massive effort from all stakeholders – including truck manufacturers, new-age transport companies and the transport ministry – to woo back our heroes on the road. All our truck manufacturers have now adopted global standards of safety and comfort in their trucks, including full sized beds, air-conditioned cabins, power steering, classy aesthetics, on-road maintenance, on-road medical assistance and high-powered electronic engines. They now also offer a direct reading of diesel consumption from their engines, which eliminate ambiguities over driver’s pilferage of diesel.
It's about time action is taken
Transport companies are now increasingly using technology to monitor metrics like distance travelled, hours driven, speed, idling time, etc. to measure driver performance. This helps them differentially reward drivers based on performance, just like a large corporate would act with its employees. Lastly, the government has taken initiatives like allowing decoupling of trailers with their prime movers, standardizing the sizes of vehicles allowed on the road, changing archaic road laws and implementing the monumental GST – all of which will go a long way in reducing corruption as well as the time spent by drivers on the road and away from their homes.
As India makes a push for another spurt of corruption free-growth, it cannot afford to ignore its truck drivers. Truck drivers are perhaps the most underappreciated community of our country. Let’s be clear – we cannot achieve our growth aspirations without listening to their needs. Truck driving is a 24 hour job, and as such truck drivers must not only be paid for their 3 shifts of working, but also be given the respect and social status they deserve for performing such a tough but crucial job. They are our national heroes, and it’s time we start treating them as such.