Veteran's trucks keep rolling as industry changes

PROTECTIVE: Taupo truck operator ‘‘Shades’’ Taylor, owner of Shades Trucking, and Taupo Furniture Removals, says his staff’s welfare is important.
PROTECTIVE: Taupo truck operator ‘‘Shades’’ Taylor, owner of Shades Trucking, and Taupo Furniture Removals, says his staff’s welfare is important.

After more than three decades in the transport industry "Shades" Taylor believes keeping business small and manageable is still the best policy despite the challenges the industry faces.

The 59-year-old Taupo-based cartage operator - owner of Shades Trucking, and Taupo Furniture Removals - has seen a raft of changes in his 32-year working life in the industry.

Since 1980, the company has had to learn to adapt to each change to stay competitive, he said.

The company fleet now includes six 11.5 tonne linehaulers for relocating anything from unregistered and damaged vehicles and farm machinery to helicopters needing repairs and caravan homes.

Another four 5 tonne furniture trucks are used for local house and office removals.

The line haulers average about 140,000 kilometres each a year, operating the length of the country.

"I've seen small companies like ours be taken over by bigger national-based ones, and the results are no better.

"The service dropped and it turned out being bigger had not meant things got better."

A recent increase in road-user charges has forced the company to adapt again, he said.

"When road-user charges increased for us from $162 per 1000 kilometres up to $330 we were shifted into another weight class alongside bulk haulage milk tankers and fertiliser carriers with a 26-tonne limit."

To remain competitive, and avoid the large increase, the company instead bought smaller trucks and redesigned them to carry the same loads. "The increases were another challenge we had to face - in fact it was a defining moment for us whether I would stay in the industry.

"In the end I owed it to my long-serving staff - some of whom have been with me 16 years - to keep operating.

"It's cost us a lot of money to adapt and reconfigure but I believe it will turn out better for us in the long term."

Mr Taylor comes from a Manawatu farming and agricultural contracting background.

While managing the BP Wairakei, north of Taupo, he forged lifelong friendships with truck operators at the popular fuel and food stop during the late 1970s to 80s. He also delivered newspapers and magazines at the weekends -the delivery contract only ended last June after 32 years.

Transporting goods by road would always be the most efficient way to get items from A to B, he said.

"Especially fragile goods, we can pick them up, wrap them and deliver them without the need to go through other trans-shippers."

Major issues need to be addressed in the road transport industry which was not in "good heart", he said.

Fuel costs had risen 20 per cent and road-user charges doubled since he began the business.

The industry was forced to raise standards but little was done about improving the poor state of the roads, meaning more wear on shock absorbers and tyres, he said.

He called road maintenance "botox on bitumen", or "Band-Aid on boils".

"The quality of the roads is falling away, and the repair work is just cosmetic.

"If we patched our trucks the way roads are repaired, we would be bankrupted."

Low wages and fewer rest areas are issues which also need to be addressed to improve the drivers' workplace environment, he said.

"I really care about drivers' welfare, if we don't, more will go to Oz and work."

In spite of the challenges he had no intention of walking away.

"I love the job. Every day is different and there are some really good people in the industry, so I have not considered selling up.

"I have always said if you want cheap oats, take a shovel and go to the rear of the horse."