Emergency Measures on Distribution of Goods: Cooperation of Shippers, Consumers Indispensable

There is no time to wait to address the so-called 2024 problem in the distribution of goods, when a shortage of truck drivers is feared will reduce transportation capacity. The crisis must be overcome through multifaceted efforts.

Starting next April, legal regulations to address the issue of long working hours will apply to truck drivers as well, and overtime hours will be capped. Unless appropriate measures are taken, it is estimated that there will be a 14% shortfall in transportation capacity in fiscal 2024 and a 34% shortfall in fiscal 2030.

The government has compiled an emergency policy package on the distribution of goods that includes measures to address this problem.

One of the pillars of the package is to double the volume of items transported by rail and ship over the next 10 years. It is important to enable efficient transportation using a variety of transportation means and fewer personnel.

The government must effectively support the development of necessary facilities and other matters for smooth coordination and increased transportation capacity.

Cooperation of shippers and consumers will be essential to solving the problem.

In business-to-business distribution, truck drivers are usually made to wait their turn as cargo is loaded and unloaded.

The measures would require shipping companies of certain sizes to formulate plans to improve efficiency, such as reducing truck drivers’ waiting time, and would allow the government to issue guidance and orders if their efforts are insufficient. It is hoped this policy will lead to definite improvements in shippers’ behavior.

In addition, there are cases where large volumes of cargo can be transported by improving the shape of transport vehicles and warehouses. It is important to make efforts to improve the way things are done.

As for measures relating to consumers, the government said it is planning to halve the rate of redelivery by establishing a program that gives consumers points when they choose a method such as having parcels left on their doorstep for contactless delivery.

However, many consumers are concerned about the possibility of theft or damage to packages left on their doorsteps. The granting of points at public expense to promote the use of this program is questionable.

The focus should be on measures to improve the treatment of truck drivers. Truck drivers’ annual income is about 10% lower than the average for all industries.

Behind this is the fact that the goods distribution industry consists of mostly small and medium-sized enterprises with weak price bargaining power. They have been subject to excessive service demands from shippers and consumers.

Items are often listed as having free delivery on online shopping sites, but distributing goods is never free.

It is desirable to show delivery costs in a tangible manner so that consumers are aware of the cost they are paying. Then, creating a system to allow flexible pricing for delivery based on the quality of service, such as charging higher rates for quick delivery and discounted rates for slower transport, will become a subject to consider.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 11, 2023)