Photo/Illutration Trucks line up at the Ebina service area in Kanagawa Prefecture in May 2020. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan is headed for a crisis in the distribution of freight across the country due to a projected shortage of truck drivers brought about by revised regulations on the number of hours they can work.

Nomura Research Institute Ltd. said Jan. 19 that as much as 35 percent of all freight across Japan will not be shipped in 2030.

It estimated that the ratio of undeliverable cargo will be especially acute in the northeastern Tohoku region, as well as Shikoku and other non-urban regions, due to what is being labeled as the 2024 issue.

This refers to revised working regulations for truck drivers that will take effect in April next year that will place a further cap on their operating hours. The move is expected to trigger a serious labor crunch in the industry.

The institute suggested that delivery fees in certain areas will increase dramatically, and in some cases, match those set for remote islands unless improvements are made in transport efficiency.

It projected the potential effect on freight distribution due to tightened restrictions based on the anticipated volume of goods to be shipped in the future.

The outcomes suggested the undeliverable cargo rate will be highest in Tohoku at 41 percent, followed by Shikoku at 40 percent. In Hokkaido and Kyushu, 39 percent of goods will probably fail to reach their destinations, it said.

The percentages for the Kanto and Kinki regions, where major cities are located, will be as high as 34 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

By prefecture, Akita, Aomori, Kochi and Nagasaki will book the largest figures of 46 percent, 44 percent, 42 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

The institute noted that fewer people are seeking jobs as truck drivers in rural zones already struggling with dwindling birthrates and population aging.

It projected that the lower quality of service, marked by sharp shipping fee increases and less frequent deliveries, will be particularly noticeable in areas with lower population densities due to the lower efficiency of distribution.

However, the delivery failure ratio is projected to fall to 7 percent on a nationwide basis if freight owners work together to help out with deliverers.

Separately, an expert panel of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism charted a course of action Jan. 17 to deal with the 2024 issue.

Plans are being eyed to make it mandatory for the three key parties involved in the industry--freight senders, recipients and delivery agencies--to develop strategies to reduce drivers’ waiting times after their arrival at warehouses and other destinations so they are not burdened by overwork.

Delivery agents will also be required to clarify details of contracts, such as shipping fares, beforehand to prevent repeated rounds of subcontracting.