The Belgian transport industry federation has sounded the alarm, warning that a few more weeks of lockdown as a reaction to the coronavirus risks causing the same sort of damage already facing the hospitality industry.
And yet it doesn’t seem so. Supermarkets and other food shops are receiving daily deliveries, and anyone out on the roads will get the impression that lorry traffic is undiminished.
But that is not the case, according to Lode Verkinderen, director the Flemish transport industry federation TLV.
“Appearances can be deceptive,” he told De Tijd. “The transport of food and pharmaceutical products is going well, for a few hundreds transports a day, but that is only a few percent of the usual total truck transports.”
Aside from food shops and pharmacies, he said, virtually all else has shut down.
“Transport for the cultural sector, sports events and chain stores has flatlined. The car industry is silent. There are no more transports to the car port of Zeebrugge, and none from the port to distributors, which are all closed. There are still some shipments of the construction industry, but that’s only likely to last a few days more.”
A clear indication is given by Viapass, the agency that calculates the road tolls owed by truck companies. According to their figures, lorries on the roads of Flanders – and that counts all haulage transport coming from the Netherlands and Germany, as well as from the main ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge – now amount to 25% less than in normal times.
“On a normal working day, we register about 25-26 million kilometres on our toll roads,” said Edward Claessens of Viapass. “Since 18 March that figure has dropped to 19 million. This week the number of trucks went from a normal average of 142,000 to 109,000.”
“I fear for a snowball effect which the transport sector will not escape,” Verkinderen said.
“If this situation continues for two or three weeks more, then I’m afraid we will see bankruptcies, as we suffer the same fate as the drinks and restaurant sector. We are already in the top five of vulnerable industries. Margins of 1% to 2% in our sector, and that’s for the lucky companies.”