Covid Insights survey indicates industry optimism: VTA

Survey validates optimistic outlook for road transport industry in Victoria.

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) has released its latest findings on freight and logistics operator sentiment amid Covid-19.

Since April, the VTA has been been running its Covid Insights survey to gauge views on trade, investment, people, customers and the future of the economy as it starts to recover and restrictions ease.

“Our October Covid Insights report continues a trend of Victorian transport operators expressing hope and optimism that the economy and our industry will quickly recover if restrictions are lifted, with 94 per cent of those surveyed agreeing or strongly agreeing their business will go on to be more prosperous,” said VTA CEO, Peter Anderson.

“This is a terrific validation of the industry’s efforts to adjust their businesses to be able to service customer needs in a sustainable and productive way, ensuring consumers have had uninterrupted access to essential goods throughout the pandemic,” he said. “It also underscores the urgent need for the Victorian government to reopen the economy as soon as possible so that this optimism doesn’t wane.”

Anderson said the Covid Insights report showed half of operators agree or strongly agree that Covid-19 will generate even bigger volumes of freight, no doubt because of the spike in internet shopping and an expected massive infrastructure and building program to generate an economic recovery.

“More than half (55 per cent) agree or strongly agree domestic and international trade will increase in the coming months, continuing the optimism reported in our first two surveys,” he said.

Sentiments towards hiring new staff and purchasing capital equipment were another factor in the positive outlook of transport operators in a post-Covid future.

“In a recession it is particularly encouraging that 69 per cent of our respondents said they would invest in their businesses by purchasing new capital equipment by year’s end, validating the government’s extension of the Instant Asset Write-off program in the federal budget,” Anderson said.

“It is equally encouraging two-thirds of those surveyed will hire new staff (31 per cent) or leave staffing levels unchanged (31 per cent) over the coming quarter, sharply contrasting cutbacks in other parts of the economy.”

Anderson said customer engagement was more important than ever and that VTA members had gone to great lengths to retain business and support their customers. Less than one in five (18 per cent) reported losing customers due to Covid, which is likely a factor in only 31 per cent reporting a downturn in activity during stage 4 restrictions and only 18 per cent concerned that changes to JobKeeper from October will make it difficult to retain staff.

“As an essential service the transport industry has not experienced the losses other businesses have suffered because of forced closures, but it is still welcome news that customer and staff retention has generally remained strong over recent challenging months,” said Anderson.

For much of the past quarter as Victoria has become more isolated from the rest of the nation, the VTA has been advocating for common sense at the borders so that linehaul operators can continue moving freight interstate.

“Our advocacy helped bring about less onerous COVID testing for drivers entering South Australia and New South Wales, which has been an ongoing concern for the 43 per cent that agreed 7- and 14-day testing requirements had reduced their productivity, and for the 32 per cent of operators that said requirements had made their linehaul operation less economical.

“The sooner our borders reopen, the sooner we can expect supply chains to return to some sort of normalcy, which would benefit the national economy and boost consumer confidence – especially in the busy lead-up to Christmas,” said Anderson.

Despite being isolated, only one-third of Victorian operators (37 per cent) were concerned the state’s economy would take longer than the rest of Australia to recover from Covid-19.