Transport policies tend to change in 30 to 40-year cycles, and that time is on the horizon for southern Africa.
The South African Road Freight Strategy, approved by Cabinet in 2017, and the Tripartite Transport and Transit Facilitation Programme (TTTFP), approved by all 27 countries in this region, both aim to improve the quality of road-freight operations by introducing fundamental changes to the regulatory systems.
The regulations, instruments, systems and standards proposed by both the Road Freight Strategy and the TTTFP system developments include: National Transport Operator Registration (a uniform and harmonised system of operator registration) and registration of Responsible Competent Persons (RCPs).
These would be backed by a uniform national transport information system, which is linked into an Integrated Transport Operator Register.
The Tripartite development is based on a Regional Transport Information System, which is an integrated Transport Register and Information Platform System. This will permit sharing of information (on drivers, vehicles and operators involved in cross-border road-transport operations and services – including offences and infringements) between all countries.
Both the Road Freight Strategy and Tripartite systems include revision of vehicle overloading control (rationalised and harmonised regulations and standards) and uniform management and control systems to support weighbridge developments and permit inter-state coordination.
Other aspects to be reviewed and harmonised include: vehicle dimensions and weights; vehicle specifications and equipment; vehicle testing stations and inspection systems; training, testing and licensing of drivers; and transportation of abnormal loads and dangerous goods.
In addition, the TTTFP contains provisions to repeal all bilateral and other cross-border permit systems, and to introduce a Multilateral Cross Border Road Transport Agreement for all 27 countries in the Tripartite region.
TTTFP will also promote unified cross-border third-party motor vehicle insurance schemes and a coordinated Tripartite Vehicle Load Management Memorandum of Understanding, intended to harmonise the control of overloading throughout the region.
There are many challenges to the successful implementation of both the Road Freight Strategy and the TTTFP, including the vested interests in the existing systems and resistance to quality controls. Very careful strategic planning will be required for:
• Changing the perceptions of the regulators
The current regulatory systems are based on the perceived need to “catch the villains”, whereas the revised systems will monitor performance standards of individual operators and make rational responses to recorded performance deficiencies.
• To rationalise, harmonise and nationalise the new regulatory framework
The introduction of the revised systems will require institutional change, training and legislative amendments to nationalise the coordinated systems.
• Persuading transport operators that monitored regulation is better than random hits
There will be a need for extensive interaction with the operator population to explain and persuade them that monitoring of quality standards is intended to foster voluntary compliance and reduce the current levels of confrontation in the enforcement systems.
• Providing the facilities to train officials, RCPs, driver trainers and trainers
There will be need for extensive investment to provide the facilities to implement the changes.
The total revision of the current systems will be traumatic for some, but, if managed properly, will result in a well-regulated industry operating under benign surveillance of a transport authority, which is dedicated to improving efficiency and supporting the best-possible operational quality.