New Zealand's truckies say they have finally been given some relief in their battle to find a toilet as they rack up 14-hour days transporting essential goods to keep the country running.
Road Transport Forum boss Nick Leggett today said Civil Defence Emergency Management director Sarah Stuart-Black told him on Friday it would get councils operating public toilets on key freight routes to open them for drivers.
The same directive was to be issued to service stations.
"At the same time there was also a directive from Government for service stations to open their facilities to essential workers [to] sell food, but not coffee at this stage.
"I assume that will be at the discretion of service stations and whether they decide to do that."
However, service stations who have responded to questions from the Herald today say they don't have any plans to open any of their facilities to truck drivers because it was only a "request" and not a mandate.
A spokesperson for the Covid-19 national response team said the Department of Internal Affairs and New Zealand Society of Local Government Management [SOLGM ] updated their advice to councils on March 27, advising them to close public toilets, "unless deemed necessary for specific reasons - servicing key public transport and service routes, and essential workers.
"Councils looking to keep their public toilets open were advised to follow best-practice hygiene and PPE standards and guidance was provided."
The issue was discovered on Thursday, the first day of the country's four-week minimum lockdown, when truck drivers found the doors closed at all public toilets.
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They were also barred from using facilities at service stations, and could no longer get coffee.
The problem got so dire, drivers today told the Herald, that some of their colleagues were left with no choice but to relieve themselves on the side of the road, in bushes or even in buckets.
The Herald is seeking comment from Local Government New Zealand and confirmation from Stuart-Black of her "request".
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Ministry of Transport have confirmed it is not an issue they are dealing with.
Auckland truck driver Jamie Hare's Facebook post has gone viral after he was turned away from BP Papakura only to see a group of police officers inside, appearing to break the 2m contact rule.
He initially thought they'd been given coffee to drink but today said it was unclear what they were doing inside.
The NZ Trucking Association and Road Transport Forum had been urgently trying to rectify the situation for its members, some of whom had been reduced to tears as they were continually being turned away from public amenities.
Ngatea woman Jo Neustroski has been in the trucking industry for 20 years and said she's never experienced anything like what they'd been through the past few days.
"A lot of drivers work away all week, not getting home every day. Not all drivers get to stay in motels or hotels, a lot stay in their trucks.
"Every human being is entitled to the basic essentials in life and one of them is being able to go to the toilet. Nobody wants to be going out on to the side of the road and having a crap, especially during the day.
"It's making drivers feel like third-world citizens in our own country and that's why drivers are getting upset."
She'd had about three experienced truck drivers - "big, burly blokes" - break down in tears over the stress and strain of what's happening.
"It breaks your heart and these guys are tough."
There was also strain on smaller transport companies whose services were no longer needed due to the number of companies which have closed due to level 4 alert.
Neustroski said despite news of an about-turn by councils and service stations, it still didn't address the issue of them getting coffee or hot food.
She said linehaul - or long-distance - truck drivers lived out of their trucks; sleeping in them overnight and relying on showers at the depots of the companies they went to and using rest rooms at service stations along their journey.
Closing off access denied them the basic human right of eating and relieving themselves and contributed to fatigue.
Napier truck driver Andrew Landy said it was a horrible situation.
"I live in Napier and I regularly do runs up to Hamilton and Auckland.
"I get to my destination in Hamilton and Auckland and they've got signs everywhere saying the facilities are for employees only and they're getting really nasty about it.
"I'm like 'what the hell are we supposed to do?' We're moving stuff so that everyone can eat, but we're being treated like crap."
Landy works for Fletcher Haulage, which transports packaging for fruit and vege companies that is, in turn, then sent to supermarkets.
He said truck drivers didn't want a medal for what they're doing, they just wanted to be treated like human beings.
Hare said while there had been a few places open to truck drivers driving large B-train vehicles who didn't have anywhere to stop and park, others were "few and far between".
Hare is an operations manager with Northchill, a company transporting goods for Pak'nSave and New World supermarkets.
He's been back behind the wheel to help transport goods during the Covid-19 crisis.
He's been dumbfounded by the support for his post, which had been shared about 4500 times.
A spokesperson for BP said it was in regular contact with MBIE and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to ensure it's fully complying with their requirements.
However, during the level 4 alert BP facilities were available only for their own staff and emergency workers in uniform.
"There are toilet facilities for customers at five truck stops in Bombay, Dairy Flat, Papakura, Te Puna and Wairakei as these are located outside of our stores."
Essential items can be purchased through night pay windows and for our three sites that customers do enter the shop, access is restricted to the transaction counter."
A spokeswoman for Z and Caltex service stations said the Government had "requested we consider opening our toilets, they have not mandated it".
Neither service station would be serving coffee to any member of the public as per earlier directives from MBIE and MPI who deemed it a "non-essential service".
"We can, however, serve pre-made hot food such as pies with the focus of that service being on essential workers. We will fully comply with all official advice throughout Level 4 given the serious nature of the pandemic that we are all doing our bit to stop.
"Regarding use of our toilets, we have made the decision to close our toilets to members to ensure our staff – who are also essential workers – are not placed at risk."
The spokeswoman said if they did open toilets for drivers, a staff member's health and safety risk "would be above and beyond the necessary and important precautions we currently have in place to protect them (such as the locked-door policy we are operating at nearly all of our sites) in cleaning the toilets".
"It is a risk to the welfare of our people that we feel unable to support."
However, she acknowledged it was "a big issue for our truck drivers, and we can confirm that we have been in touch with officials as to how we could provide an alternative solution using our sites".
"We will continue to work with them over the coming days to reach a good outcome for both our people and truck drivers."