Chinese haulage industry insiders have said drivers are being forced to carry more than the permitted loads to survive after the authorities began a crackdown on the practice following a fatal accident.
The provincial authorities in Jiangsu, in eastern China, launched a campaign to rectify overloaded vehicles after a four-year-old girl and her mother were crushed in their car as the flyover collapsed on top of them in Wuxi city on Thursday evening. A man in another car was also killed and two people injured in an accident that was blamed on an overloaded truck.
The authorities said the truck was carrying more than 170 tonnes of steel coils –115 tonnes more than the permitted maximum.
But industry insiders said most of China’s 30 million owner-operators are forced to cut corners to survive in the face of skyrocketing fuel costs and falling orders.
“Overloading is becoming the only way to be profitable and survive in the industry,” said Wang Xianping, a 45-year-old truck driver from Hubei, adding this year was the worst for China’s hauliers, with the most fierce competition ever.
“Orders and freight income have been shrinking to a new record low since this year,” he said. “Most truck drivers cannot afford to employ a relief driver and have to get by with just four hours of sleep on a 24-hour trip.
Freight income has been dropped from 10 yuan (US$1.40) per kilometre in 2016 to seven yuan last year and six this year due to fierce competition, Wang said.
A driver could earn about 17,000 yuan in 2018 for a 2,500km round trip between Wuhan, in central China, and Shenzhen, in southern China, but now they will make 15,000 yuan, according to Zhang Liang, who runs a vehicle logistic company in Shenzhen.
That leaves about 4,000 yuan per trip after the cost of fuel and road tolls is factored in, but most of that will go to paying off truck loans, Zhang said.
Both men said that reducing road tolls would help cut drivers’ costs.
But large number of truck drivers in China are self-employed contractors and have to run up heavy debts to buy their vehicles. Facing heavy competition from other drivers, many are then forced to reduce their prices – which gives them a greater incentive to overload their vehicles.
Both Wang and Zhang said it is common to see overloaded trucks on the country’s road network, with drivers often bribing officials to turn a blind eye to the practice.
“Those overloaded vehicles could earn three times more than us.” Wang said.
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