'Yacht fuel' is the most common load carried by truckies

Reducing the number of trucks running empty could help cut carbon emissions.
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Reducing the number of trucks running empty could help cut carbon emissions.

Roughly 40 per cent of the trucks you see hurrying along the highway are carrying the same commodity: Yacht fuel.

That's what truck-owners like Shane Grant of Shandon Transport call fresh air.

The trucking industry has a serious over-capacity issue.

"The average salary for drivers is quite low, in part because trucking struggles to turn a profit," said TNX's Jonah ...
TNX

"The average salary for drivers is quite low, in part because trucking struggles to turn a profit," said TNX's Jonah McTintire (right), pictured with his colleague Alex Hoffmann.

At any point in time many of the trucks on our roads are running empty, heading to a pick up, or returning from a drop-off, transporting nothing but yacht fuel from A to B.

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But a global tech start-up hopes to change that, and has chose New Zealand to test its system.

All around the world, trucking capacity is underused.
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All around the world, trucking capacity is underused.

TNX has created an online matchmaking platform allowing people and companies with cargo they want moving to seek a "spot" price from trucking companies with spare capacity.

"We wanted a place where we could focus on testing a product before we go to compete hard in bigger markets," said TNX's head of adoption Jonah McIntire.

​New Zealand was a good place for TNX to headquarter and do its trials as under-capacity in the trucking industry is a mirror of larger markets, he said.

That included the proportion of cargo capacity filled with yacht fuel.

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"In New Zealand about 40 per cent of the time, it is fresh air. Globally that's similar. It's not like New Zealand is particularly bad," McIntire said.

It's something of a secret from the New Zealand public, which the trucking industry believes has little idea how it works.

When a truck adorned with a big brand's logo passes, perhaps those of a prominent fizzy drink maker, or a supermarket, McIntire reckons most people assume the truck is owned by the company that owns the brand. They probably also assume the truck is carrying that company's wares to store.

Neither is probably true, he says.

Trucks are often owned by independent business, and it is up to their owners to find cargo for them to carry.

That's easier said than done, which is where TNX comes in.

Margins are low in the trucking industry, so many trucking firms have little in the way of human resource to scout around for one-off jobs to soak up their spare capacity.

Finding these jobs can be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

The TNX system allows people who want cargo moved to alert trucking companies to their need.

Algorithm-drive software brings their need to the attention of trucking companies with capacity in the cargo's vicinity, and they can bid for the work.

As in many online auction systems, there are built-in trust mechanisms.

Both truck companies and companies who want cargo moved can "blackball" companies they don't want to work with, perhaps because of bad experiences in the past.

They can also "whiteball" companies they'd be pleased to work with.

Grant, who is based in the Waikato runs three trucks which run as a "floating" fleet, which will go anywhere in New Zealand.

"I try to keep my trucks loaded all the time," he said.

But, he said: "It's really cut-throat out there."

Some truck companies accept rates that are ridiculously low to earn something off their spare capacity, usually on return trips from a job that paid a fair commercial rate.

TNX has only been operating for less than two months, and already Grant's picking up work through it. "It's making my life a lot easier."

McIntire believes in time spot-priced transport will account for around 15 per cent of haulage.

Truck companies will still prefer to have a backbone of contracts on which they depend, he believed.

If trucking companies can drive down their overcapacity drivers and the environment could benefit.

"The average salary for drivers is quite low, in part because trucking struggles to turn a profit," McIntire said.

Then there's the not insignificant issue of trucking pollution. 

"Trucks account for 10 per cent of green house gas emissions, which is pretty substantial," McIntire said. "Trucking is one of the biggest polluters."

"All these things improve, if you improve the utilisation of the trucks."

Trucking is an important part of the economy. McIntire said it accounted for around 4 per cent of GDP. "That's $6 billion a year," he said.

There may be around 100,000 loads transported daily, McIntire reckons, carried by somewhere in the region of 40,000 trucks.

 - Stuff

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