One step forward, two steps back
In a recent edition of NatRoad’s weekly newsletter, NatRoad chief executive Bernie Belacic wrote an insightful article questioning the logic of current exorbitant registration fees foisted on truck operators for lead or ‘A’ trailers in B-double and B-triple configurations. Here’s what Bernie had to say.
‘There are some strong arguments for the suggestion that when it comes to workplace health and safety, safety comes first and cost comes a distant second. In fact, under the national model bill for Workplace Health and Safety ‘cost’ can only be taken into account should it be ‘grossly disproportionate to the risk’. Yet there is no consideration when it comes to truck charges encouraging more productive and safer vehicles on the road.
The reality is that running two B-doubles equates to removing three semi-trailers from the road, while running one B-triple equates to removing two semi-trailers from the road. What’s more, it’s a proven fact that B-doubles and B-triples are safer than equivalent sized conventional combinations such as roadtrains. This is not to say that B-doubles are the perfect or right choice for every situation, however for most of the last 20 years governments collectively have made the conscious decision to encourage the uptake of these vehicles. That is, up until the last charging determination whereupon B-double registration charges increased to over $15,000 and B-triples to over $21,000.
During a recent speech, chairman of the Productivity Commission Gary Banks said that in tackling Australia’s economic challenges at a micro-economic level, “…The imperative must be to drive productivity improvements and efficiency throughout the economy, through actions that can effectively foster competition, facilitate organisational flexibility and adaptability, and build capability. Whatever the economic question, ‘productivity’ is generally the answer.”
Over the last 20 years productivity has improved significantly in the trucking industry. Clearly the introduction of the B-double has made a large contribution to this over the same period. So why have government ministers now decided, ‘Let’s increase the registration charges so we can undo as much as possible of the progress made over the last 20 years’?
If, as Gary Banks says, productivity is the answer to our current challenges, then why are we encouraging the trucking industry to go backwards?
Recently I was invited by the chief executive of the National Transport Commission (NTC) to a meeting in Melbourne to discuss this exact issue. The NTC has heard the message loud and clear from industry – including directly from the NatRoad board at its meeting in May – that the registration charge increase that was agreed to by transport ministers in 2007 is having a significant impact on business decisions; particularly so with B-triples where without greater access arrangements the productivity benefits are marginal at best.
It seems the challenge is to convince state and commonwealth governments that the issue is real.
Given that Western Australia has not adopted the increase, it is clear the WA government understands the issue. Now we must convince the other governments that this is not only an issue, but one on which they must act quickly. The problem is governments generally do not move quickly unless forced to through public pressure.
Hard facts and figures will be required but getting this information is the hard part. Because states have been only collecting ‘A’ trailer registration information for a few years now, it is unlikely that registration numbers will be able to show any visible trends. Nevertheless, together with the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) and its member organisations, NatRoad is talking to manufacturers and their representatives to obtain non commercial data on sales.
The feedback NatRoad receives from its members, while unfortunately not high in numbers, is anecdotally loud and clear. Putting real figures to this is now required, along with some strong lobbying of governments around the country.
While this is but one of many political hurdles, NatRoad and the ATA are pushing for a quick resolution.’
ATA releases A-trailer registration charges solution
The registration charge for a nine-axle B-double would fall from $15,708 to $10,602 under the ATA’s A-trailer registration charges solution, released today.
The ATA developed the solution to reverse the decline in the use of B-doubles that followed the massive increase in the registration charge on their lead or A-trailers.
The charge for a tri-axle A-trailer increased from $1,065 in 2007-08 to $6,525 in 2011-12. During the same period, the usage of A-trailers fell eight per cent; the number of A-trailers sold by manufacturers fell 44 per cent.
Under the ATA’s solution, the registration charge for a tri-axle A-trailer would fall to $2,283. Registration charges for other trailer types would increase slightly to compensate, with the registration charge for a tri-axle semitrailer increasing by $159 from $1,419 to $1,578.
In a letter to the National Transport Commission, ATA Chief Executive Stuart St Clair said the ATA was concerned about the reduction in the use of A-trailers and the resulting return to less safe practices.
“This has occurred following the dramatic increases in registration charges for A-trailers, in an attempt to follow the COAG guideline that there should be no subsidisation between different types of combinations,” Stuart said.
“While recognising COAG’s recent view of not cross subsidising between classes of vehicles, it is now clear the unintended consequence of this view is leading to a reduction in safety.
“The original purpose of lower charges for B-doubles was anticipated to lead to an accelerated uptake of these safer, more productive vehicles. This, in turn, was expected to see a reduction in the growth of the number of trucks on the road, producing a safer outcome.”
He said the ATA’s solution would deliver road agencies the same amount of revenue, at the same time returning to the intended benefits of the B-double combination.
“By returning to a common trailer axle charge and slightly increasing charges across the trailer fleet, we would see a return to safer on-road combinations and a better utilisation of the existing fleet, which was COAG’s original directive,” he said.
B-doubles carry 46 per cent of Australia’s articulated freight but only account for 29 per cent of major truck crashes. They have the latest safety features and their drivers are licensed to a higher standard. Each B-double carries more freight than a conventional semitrailer, which reduces the growth in the number of trucks on the road – and therefore the growth in the accident risk.