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They do things very differently over here

13th November 1982
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Page 30, 13th November 1982 — They do things very differently over here
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

The Irish haulage industry is not east in thE British mould. David Wilcox has been learning about it through the eyes of Fitzsimons Transport

A BRITISH HAULIER setting up business in the Republic of Ireland might have a surprise waiting for him. For although Ireland seems almost an extension of the UK it might just as well be a million miles away. The Irish haulage industry bears very little resemblance to ours; it is the same game but played using different rules and a different board.

This was the picture painted for me by Gerry Fitzsimons, managing director of Dublinbased international haulier Fitzsimons Transport and a well respected figure in Irish transport. Until he relinquished the postearlier this year he was also EEC representative for the Irish Road Haulage Association.

Fitzsimons Transport has its origins in a small horse and cart delivery service around Dublin started in 1933 by Gerry's grandfather. Having moved into the motor age and expanded somewhat, the company continued to concentrate on deliveries and distribution in the Dublin area until the late sixties and in 1974 moved into the international field.

This last step came about almost by chance when a German agent approached them ("I think they picked us out of the Yellow Pages") to set up an Ireland-Germany groupage service, with Fitzsimons running the Irish end.

In 1977 Gerry Fitzsimons followed this initiative and established contact with a French haulier to set up an IrelandFrance groupage run. It worked well until last year when the French haulier "hit problems".

So in April this year Fitzsimons Transport opened its own depot at Le Bourget on the outskirts of Paris. "We're the only Irish haulier with a depot in France" claithed Gerry.

Since setting up the Le Bourget facility the company has picked up a lot of additional business, benefiting from the direct contact with French customers. There are no Fitzsimons vehicles based there; they all operate from Dublin and French hauliers look after the collection and distribution of the groupage consignments in France.

Fitzsimons operates two groupage services a week to France, leaving Dublin on a Tuesday and a Saturday. The Saturday departure is understandably the more popular as the Irish manufacturl. ers clear their week's export production and two or three tilt trailers will usually leave Dublin on this departure.

The company occasionally does full-load work but sees groupage to France and Germany as its real strength because of its arrangements with foreign hauliers and Fitzsimons own collection and delivery operation throughout the Republic of Ireland.

Broadly speaking, the whole country is covered by Fitzsimons on a fixed schedule with daily collections and deliveries in the bigger towns, and even the more remote areas of the country are usually served twice a week.

These journeys are timed to link up with the international departures, so they double as both domestic haulage/distribution and international groupage C&D services.

In addition to France and Germany, the other overseas groupage destination served by Fitzsimons is the United Kingdom; in March 1981 the company took on the Roadfine agency for the Republic. Some of Fitzsimons' boxvan rigids are now in Roadline's livery and there is a regular traffic of one trailer a day in each direction between the UK and Ireland.

This is an unaccompanied service (the others are driver-accompanied) and uses the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead or DublinLiverpool/Fleetwood crossings. For the services to France and Germany, Fitzsimons Transport normally favours the landbridge route via the UK rather than crossing direct to France; Gerry says that he finds it cheaper and more reliable.

The company does not run into Northern Ireland but works with Northern Ireland Carriers, and three times a week NIC vehicles come into Fitzsimons depot on the Northern side of Dublin to exchange traffic.

Fitzsimons' fleet has contracted slightly recently from a peak of 26 two years ago to 24 vehicles now — still big by Irish standards. Gerry explains that the company is tending to use more sub-contractors these days, a habit picked up from its continental involvement.

The fleet comprises 14 Hino rigids with 6.7m (22ft) box bodies, grossing 14 tons. There are also a few Ford equivalents, the 1411 D-Series. At the heavier end of the scale there is a lone Hino HE tractive unit, a DAF 2100 unit and a OAF 2100 six-wheeler for drawbar operation. Finally, there are five Mercedes-Benz 3070 pick-ups used for delivering bottled gas — a relatively common load in Ireland where mains gas is not available in many parts.

Three of these Mercedes-Benz pick-ups are now doubling up to service a recently won contract to deliver Tennants lager in the Dublin area; the summer peak for lager consumption dovetails nicely with the winter peak for bottled gas.

So far, Gerry Fitzsimons' description of his company's business seems fairly normal and well-organised. But when he describes the environment in which it is working it is apparent • that the Irish haulage industry in general is not normal and wellorganised when judged by UK standards.

It still operates under the merchandise licence system whereby hauliers quite simply buy their licences to operate vehicles. Gerry recalled that in the mid-Seventies his company bought five licences (each applicable for one vehicle) at a total cost then of E23,000. In 1978 this type of licence was uprated to cover six vehicles each. The cost of the licence represents an alem enta ry form of quantity licensing.

A Government-commissioned inquiry called the Transport Consultative Commission was set up in mid-1980 to look into road haulage and paid particular attention to the licensing system, such as it was. Most professional haulage bodies such as the Irish Road • ,Haulage Association, Irish Overseas Transport Association and the Independent Hauliers Association were in favour of a more thorough, quality type of licensing system. They presenled their evidence and the TCC subsequently published its report in August 1981.

Not surprisingly it recommended the scrapping of the merchandise system in favour of UK-style licensing with a road freight carrier's licence similar to our Operator's Licence.

• Unfortunately, according to Gerry Fitzsimons, things do not appear to have progressed since then. Ireland still has merchandise licensing. "As far as I know the Department of Transport here is still considering the TCC report. There are a lot of priorities in Ireland and this doesn't seem to rank too highly. A couple of changes of Government haven't helped."

The other priorities mentioned centre around the severe problems with the Irish economy. It means that there is neither the time nor the money to put the road haulage house into order.

Something that puts a large question mark at the end of any proposals to tighten-up Irish haulage regulations is the even lower priority given to enforcing the current standards. Gerry described the present state of enforcement (that was tightened up earlier this year) in terms that would still give a UK Licensing Authority kittens and have the traffic examiner sharpening his biro.

As a member state of the EEC, the Republic of Ireland is, of course, subject to EEC driving hour regulations. "But the eight hour driving day is just not practical in Ireland" explains Gerry Fitzsimons. "For instance, Cork is our second city and about 160 miles from Dublin where we are. Our roads are so poor and without motorways that journey, takes about five hours in a lorry.

"In other words, to run legally from Dublin to Cork and back again you need an overnight. And that's between our two biggest cities; when you get out into the country it is even worse. We need a 10 hour driving day — everybody agrees on that."

In the absence of a legally permitted 10 hour driving day Irish hauliers grant themselves one, and the current level of enforcement does not stop it. Even the introduction of the other EEC requirement, the tachograph, has not deterred them. Gerry es timates that probably no more than 10 per cent of domestic Irish hauliers use their tachographs.

Gerry Fitzsimons says that the average responsible Irish haulier does not willingly break the law. "But the lack of enforcement allows the worst ones to get away with it and so in the present circumstances the respectable companies are forced to break the law just to be cornpetitive. Irish transport cannot bear the costs that full implementation and enforcement of the law would bring. The customers just won't pay."

Gerry also claims that the efforts to bring economic development to parts of Ireland have not helped matters in the field of haulage regulations compliance. The Industrial Development Authority has encouraged continental manufacturers to set up factories in rural areas like Connemara in the extreme West but without building the necessary road links. Gerry Fitzsimons' vehicles call on these customers and to get there takes .a long time on the narrow, winding and often poorly surfaced Irish roads.

Incidentally, Gerry added that a number of Irish hauliers had picked up bad debts from some of these developments that had • failed and that with margins so tight it does not take much to drag the haulier out of business as well. De Lorean was said to be within a hair's breadth of setting up in Ireland before finally choosing Northern Ireland for his ill-fated venture.

It is a similar picture when it comes to lorry weights, with a lack of suitable roads being the villain of the piece. "If the UK is limited to 32 tons then looking at our roads we ought to be limited to about 3 tons!" says Gerry. An exaggeration, but you can see what he means. Some road surfaces in Ireland are badly patched and even travelling on the main Dublin-Belfast road the improvement in road quality when you cross into Northern Ireland is immediately apparent.

Lorry overloading is fairly widespread in Ireland; Gerry claims that even the semi-stateowned CIE undertaking operates lorries which carry 12 pallets of fertiliser, each pallet weighing 2 tons. Matters are not helped by a lack of weighbridges, particularly at ports, so that Irish lorries with accidental, undetected overloads can reach UK roads where they stand a fair chance of being caught.

There seems to be no movement towards heavier weights in Ireland but Gerry Fitzsimons is hoping that the adoption of the Armitage proposals for higher weights in the UK will act as a fever to eventually get more sensible limits in Ireland as well. "We would settle for 38 tonnes on five axles."

As if these problems are not enough Irish hauliers now have two others to contend with. In the last couple of months vat rules have changed and vat is now payable on imports at the point of entry into the country. Gerry said that this has caused no end of problems with consignors and carriers not totally aware of the change and there have been some delays with customs clearance.

The other change takes place on January 1 next year when for the first time Irish lorries must pass an MOT test. This at least should improve the standard of some of the vehicles and some hauliers are already doing pretest work on their lorries.

Fitzsimons Transport does most of its own maintenance and the choice of vehicles reflects the company's requirement for reliability and service back up.

The Japanese Hino marque though still rare in the UK h dominant in the Republic of Ireland where the vehicles are as sembled by J. Harris (Assam. biers) of Dublin. Gerry describec the Hino 14-ton rigid which forms the backbone of his flee as a "good work-horse" with ex cellent reliability and easily available spare parts. "And it not as subject to modification as most vehicles" he adds.

Hino's popularity reflects not only its strength and suitability for Irish operating conditions but also the commitment made by Hino and Harris to the Irish mar ket; there is a good spread al Hino dealers in the country.

In addition to the rigid the Hino six and eight-wheel tippei chassis and the Hino artic unil are also immensely popular in Ireland and even nationally known companies who hardly dare buy non-British vehicles in the UK have little hesitation in operating a Hino in the Republic.

Fitzsimons Transport tends tc use its lone Hino tractive unit mainly in Ireland and prefers tc send its DAFs to the continent on groupage services. This is be cause the Hino unit is not a sleeper cab and is not as comfortable as the OAF, and because there is a definite lack of Hine service back-up on the continent, Other Irish international hauliers tend to favour the big. ger continental units like the Scania 142, DAF 2800 and Volvo F10. According to Gerry some al the smaller Irish hauliers like to overspecify: "They'll buy a Volvo F10 or F12 when an Fl would do the job. I think it is Irish pride."

Having seen this thumbnail sketch of Irish haulage, what lies in the future for the industry? Gerry Fitzsimons feels that the domestic Irish haulage market is, if anything contracting and he sees no sign of an upturn. He therefore envisages Fitzsimons putting more emphasis on the international scene, possibly developing more links with continental hauliers. And because of -the company's proximity to Dublin Airport airfreight is another possible field for expansion.

For the industry as a whole in Ireland Gerry Fitzsimons says that he would like a similar system of licensing and the same recommendations as in the Armitage "package", all backed up by proper enforcement. "But first we need the roads. Without those we don't stand a chance — particularly on drivers' hours — but I don't know where the money for all this is going to come from. As I said before, we have a lot of other priorities in Ireland."

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