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Fleet operator, Ann Lopez is a strong and passionate advocate for the road transport industry in New South Wales.
Ann Lopez of Lopez Bros.

Ann Lopez and her husband Phil operate a family business in Sydney specialising in container transport to and from the port.

Ann is a board member of Road Freight New South Wales (RFNSW) and is often that organisation’s representative at State Government Ministerial level advocating on matters involving the industry.

Ann recently attended a meeting addressing the skills shortage with Prue Car MLA, the NSW Minister for Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education.

“The Skills launch was great and I was able to meet and talk with some interesting people in the training space that may lead to some initiatives for jobs and RFNSW members in the future,” she says. “I was impressed by the Minister’s commitment to government bodies encouraging traineeships and apprenticeships.”

Ann, like many, is concerned about the shortage of skilled people coming into the transport industry. The misnomer passed down from the 1960s of truck drivers always speeding and consuming drugs is still, she concedes, accepted by some members of the public today.

“Not only is that incorrect but it creates the misconceptions which can be a barrier to people who would otherwise consider entering the industry,” she says.

“We want more women, but they don’t want to be part of an industry which is perceived that way. Parents don’t want their young people, whether boys or girls, to be put into those perceived environments and it falsely stops people from considering a career path in transport. I’d like to see more awareness of what the industry is really like among those decision-makers and people who influence policy.”

To that end, Ann has also represented RFNSW at a meeting with the NSW Minister for Small Business Steve Kamper.

“I think we have to keep talking and we have to unite because as an industry we don’t talk collectively as one voice,” she says.

“We all have similar problems. We all pay the same fuel tax, and we all buy trucks and trailers. There may be different sectors yet all are struggling with similar issues and yet we provide a massive contribution to the economy both directly and indirectly.”

Ann refers to the previous Morrison Government’s decision to suspend fuel tax credits in 2022 as a “brain snap”.

“Did they know, or not know, the consequences for our industry? How could they do that and what did they think would happen?” she asks.

“Now we see many small businesses which have been running for such a long time, saying ‘enough is enough’ and closing.”

Lopez Brother Transport was established in 1929.

The company has seen many changes over the successive generations and a major contributor to the Lopez Bros success story has been the Lopez family’s personal involvement and ‘hands on’ approach to their business.

“Someone said to me once it’s a cheap entry industry,” says Ann. “Some people think you can get a truck and start working, but the challenge is to be able to make it sustainable and ongoing.”

Ann has concern for smaller regional towns which are losing their transport carriers as it becomes increasingly difficult to promise overnight delivery because of the limited infrastructure.

“You can travel the highways north and south, but as soon as you want to turn inland in NSW there is no infrastructure anymore which can sustain what we expect in our modern economy,” she says.

“People expect if they need something tonight or tomorrow they’ll get it.”

The lack of support to make transport a sustainable industry needs to be called out more. According to Ann the industry doesn’t emphasise how important it is, often enough.

“We don’t blow our own horns beyond ‘Without Trucks Australia Stops’ and there is not a big enough connection beyond that phrase,” she says.

“We all need to work together to shout out how important we are by giving people reasons to appreciate us. COVID did that for a little while and the public and politicians told us we were amazing.”

Bringing about a change in the general public’s perceptions of the road transport industry will also contribute to attracting people to seek careers in trucking.

“It’s actually a really good industry to join,” she says. “There is potential for women including mothers returning to the workforce.”

The public and customers also need to appreciate the value of the trucks and trailer equipment, as well as the skills of the operators.

“A client may have a precious load yet quibble over a few dollars,” says Ann. “I know it’s competitive but give us some respect for what we are doing. I hate losing work on price but I’m not going to grovel and demean what we do. When you get us, you get a good job and there’s a value to that, but there’s a cost for that as well.”

In common with most of the transport industry, container specialists require some reforms to help with the ‘last mile’ mainly around access when delivering heavier containers.

“Councils claim their infrastructure can’t handle the loads, yet they are happy to have the customer as a rate payer and a local employer,” she says.

“The problem comes back to ageing infrastructure, especially roads which have been handed back to councils who have limited budgets.”

Another particular challenge for operations such as those like Lopez Bros Transport are incorrectly packed containers which result in issues with axle weight distribution even if the gross weight is legal.

Lopez Bros Transport is ultra-conscientious about this situation and has Mass Management but there is still the additional cost of turning containers around to ensure compliance.

Ann’s early career was as a schoolteacher. She draws upon those skills when communicating with officialdom.

“I loved teaching. It is a different lifestyle with different skills and expectations,” Ann says.

“I like the ‘art’ of teaching, if you can call it that, and communicating ideas. I want to educate the people who make the decisions that affect all of us about the importance of how our industry operates. I’m happy to do that.”

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