The merchant history of Townsville, then known as Cleveland Bay, when it first came of age, commences sometime around 1872.
It was James Burns, who, partnering with future state premier Robert Philip, founded a trading company that would go on to dominate shipping throughout the South Pacific.
At that time it was daily occurrence outside the new store on the waterfront to see ten to 20 bullock drays and as many horse wagons bound for goldfields in Charters Towers, Ravenswood and Etheridge. Burns, Philip & Co soon expanded its shipping network to Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns and New Guinea.
Today the city of Townsville is undergoing a $30 million port expansion project, not far from that original merchant store.
With a university, military base and constant influx of tourists given its central proximity to the Great Barrier Reef, the tropical capital of North Queensland as it has come to be known, has, outside the wet season, an official population of 195,000.
Nearly nine per cent of this shifting populace works in accommodation or food services including the crew at Way4ward Transport, a final mile delivery business that makes home deliveries on a major supermarket contract with a fleet of 14 light commercial vehicles.
Restrictions that have limited people movements during the coronavirus lockdowns has precipitated a rise in online deliveries, which for Way4ward, has in turn increased its vehicle movements across the city as it keeps up with demand.
As a niche operation, the business performs close to 2000 deliveries a week with the entire fleet up and running.
It’s a rare occurrence, as most fleet managers will attest, when there isn’t at least one commercial vehicle that requires attention in the shop. Rarer still that vehicle is a Hino according to Way4ward Transport owner James Fulcher, who oversees an existing small fleet of European and Japanese LCVs. Of these mobile assets currently at his disposal the four Hino 300s and a Hino 500, used primarily on a bread delivery contract, are the standouts. He likens them to tanks.
“They keep on going and go and go and go,” he says. “In our line of work, they are a pleasure for us to run given the minimal issues they bring to our business.”
Part of James’ responsibility is to run, maintain and insure the vehicles. Honeycombs Sales & Service is the preferred local Hino dealer and servicing is capped at 20,000km intervals.
Deliveries commence around 5am after the drivers have been dispatched from stores across the distribution network. The trucks, during off-peak, average somewhere between 12 and 20 drops. Over the last month, however, that has increased dramatically to approximately 30 drops a day.
Operations have surged in recent weeks as last mile services adapt to rising ecommerce orders with more consumers confined to their homes as part of regulatory efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Increased truck movements for refrigerated goods in hot conditions are testing. The Townsville climate is mostly hot.
Humidity often exceeds 80 per cent in the summer. The Hinos, however, have demonstrated their suitability in the conditions which can approach the sweltering.
“For me Hino is the epitome of all the trucks we are operating because of its reliability. The other vehicles from Europe go into limp mode and are off the road a lot more often,” says James. “For this kind of business and in this part of the world with the heat it just seems to run better.”
That also applies to the refrigeration units which are handled more efficiently by the Hino vehicles according to James who confirms that they feature superior fridge temperature control.
The two-pallet Hino 300 in operation by Way4ward come with adjustable refrigeration temperature control, temperature monitoring display for the insulated aluminium enclosed tray in a comfortable large cab offering a premium body with Alloy Rice-grain floor and magnetic door-stays. Its powered by a 4.0 litre 150 horsepower turbo diesel engine.
“However it is that they set up the trucks specifically to maximise the refrigeration it seems to work better with the Hino,” says James. “If I had my way as to what the fleet would eventually look like in future and we expand the delivery network, I’d consolidate it around Hino commercial vehicles.”
A Hino 500 was purchased, based in part on James’ positive experience with the Hino 300s, for a local bread contract. The deliveries go to a set client base of commercial businesses seven days a week.
This includes supermarkets, a correctional facility, the hospital, fast food establishments and a distribution point on Magnetic Island – making it one of the most picturesque delivery routes in the country. James pilots this truck himself, starting most days at 2.30am. The Hino 500 he says has hardly missed a beat for the last three years.
When James took over the business in 2014, he had previously been working as a delivery driver, grounds perhaps to justify his high praise for the vehicle’s turning circle which he describes as “phenomenal.”
Born in Melbourne, James moved to England at the age of ten and returned in 2012 to Townsville where he accepted the opportunity to work as a driver.
Two years later the main contractor wanted someone local in the area to oversee the home delivery business. James was approached.
A carpenter by trade, he had never run his own team before. By his own admission he calls it a once in a lifetime opportunity which he wasted little time jumping at.
When he sat down with management to understand operational procedures, he discovered much of the training had been flawed and not in adherence to some of the guidelines which were outdated. Many of the drivers at the time were not aware of this.
For James, it was the first point of order as the new boss. He set about administering these new procedures which included rules for parking vehicles off-premises. It helped him gain respect among the team.
“The biggest challenge was essentially behavioural. That meant getting people out of old habits and showing them the importance of doing things the right way,” he says.
“I had to explain to the drivers that we had been doing things wrong and share with them what had been outlined in detail for me.”
At that time he was allowed to bed in to the operations using three of the five trucks on hand as he got a better handle on his new role.
Following a whirlwind period of inducting new drivers and upskilling those he inherited, often sitting with them during a delivery run and explaining the changes that were required and how best to make them habit forming, he learned a lot about himself and the machinations of the business.
No one reverses, as a rule, onto residential premises any longer.
“The biggest success was bringing in my own drivers and training them from scratch,” he says. “Once that happened the other drivers who had been with us before I took over began to understand it and they caught up quicker.”
All drivers comply to fatigue management regulations and observe strict new conduct under government standards for essential businesses, of which Way4ward is most definitely one. They know this from customer feedback.
“We’ve never felt so appreciated,” James says. “I’ve not received many complaints over the last five years. My team is phenomenal.”
Prior to COVID-19 the drivers would enter customer premises and ask them where they would like their shopping. Post COVID-19 means that deliveries are strictly left at the front door to ensure drivers maintain a 1.5 metre distance under social distancing policy. The driver then takes a photo to confirm delivery.
“This coronavirus crisis has brought about big changes to our business as I imagine it has to all services still running at this strange time in history,” he says. “We’ve been more mindful about the processes now in place and educating the team on using hand sanitisers, anti-bacterial wipes and disinfectant.”
With the local populace increasingly reliant on the business, it has proven, beyond a doubt, for James, that the Hino trucks are reliable no matter how challenging the conditions.
“Even though the trucks are getting worked harder and more often, we’ve now got a higher level of confidence,” he says. “That’s no small thing for any business at this time.”