Talking Turkey About Trucking

Reinforcing stereotypes

Trucking industry people have a legitimate gripe when they claim their industry is badly represented in the media with a consequent negative attitude to all things trucking from the general populace. Again this week, a story hits the newswires which will reinforce all of the bad things people think about trucks and truckies on the roads.

The massive fines handed out to Scotts Transport will have brought every one up with a start. Every operator knows they are vulnerable to situations like this where the enforcement arm come down hard and start a deep investigation of one aspect of the trucking business. Scotts will not claim there is no blame attached to the company, there has been wrongdoing by drivers and some in the company have allowed a situation to develop which left a major transport company open to big fines and public humiliation.

However, the decision by the Roads and Maritime Services in NSW to come down hard on them owes a lot to the fraught situation at the time of the investigation after truck crashes caused public concern. It has to be pointed out, the decision by the court found there was not a systemic failure in the operation, but mistakes and bad decisions were made.

The general public will only see what gets through to them in the general media and use the information gained to inform their feelings when large trucks pass them and intimidate them out on the highway. Talk of trucks at 143 km/h and large fines for speeding tell them the trucking industry is mad, bad and dangerous to know. This just creates more distrust and causes more antagonism.

At the same time, the RMS feel pressured to make an example of someone to reassure this general public, who also happen to be voters. Trucks crash, people die and someone has to pay. We have already seen Cootes put through the wringer in this way.

We have a situation here where everyone is reinforcing negative stereotypes, to the detriment of the situation of all stakeholders in the trucking industry, for both the short and long term. There can be no co-operative attitude or inclusive action when trucking operations and roadside enforcement hold each other in contempt and view the other with deep distrust.

People in the trucking industry feel victimised, as they are being demonised in the media and news outlets run their own agenda, where engendering more fear in the car driver public, to increase website clicks, simply reinforces their concerns.

Who wins out of all this? Not the trucking industry. Not the general public. Not the regulators.

The floating tonne

A regulation allowing a floating tonne looks likely after the recent Ministerial Council on Transport and Infrastructure in Alice Springs. The floating tonne rule should allow for a one tonne mass to be transferred to a tri-axle group from other axle groups, as long as the overall vehicle mass does not exceed the limits for the vehicle operating under general mass limits.

 

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Ministers at the meeting agreed to the amendment and it is expected to be introduced into the Queensland Parliament as an amendment to the National Heavy Vehicle Law in the next few months, for implementation in the near future.

 

This Ministerial Council was the first since last December’s decision by the Council of Australian Governments to institute a new Council system to facilitate national reforms.

 

Other decisions effecting the move to national regulation was the approval of the corporate plan for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator from 2014 to 2017 and finalising of the budget for the next financial year at the $135 million level agreed previously.

 

Ministers also agreed to look at getting closer to introducing electronic work diaries (EWD) and consider legislative drafting instructions at their next meeting in November, at which time a policy ids expected to be released by the National Transport Commission. Any EWD introduction is expected to be voluntary only.

 

The Council agreed jurisdictions will commence work to implement initial heavy vehicle investment and access reform measures. It will be looking into the possible next steps in heavy vehicle charging and investment reform at the next meeting. Policy will use the, recently completed, Heavy Vehicle Charging and Investment report into truck road charging. Mass/distance/location charging is likely to be near the top of the agenda with this reform.

 

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Coming to a DC near you, a raid

The authorities in New South Wales are always going to be an issue for the trucking industry. The stats tell us 70 odd per cent of the road freight moved in Australia passes through NSW at some point in its journey. To the Roads and Maritime Services and the NSW Police Traffic & Highway Patrol, this means they reckon they have responsibility to keep the road transport industry on the straight and narrow.

 

In the last week the RMS and NSW Police executed one of their hard hitting raids. This time on a distribution centre in Huntingwood, in Eastern Sydney. Looking at the news the authorities released to the press demonstrates just what value the RMS think this kind of operation achieves. It’s all about the numbers.

 

The headline on the statement was all about how many tickets the zealous RMS enforcement officers handed out to the unsuspecting and trapped truckies. The RMS inspected 111 trucks and trailers and issued 22 defect notices. How severe these defects were is hard to tell, but by just using the word ‘defects’ without further explanation suggests most of them, if not all, were minor. Why let that get in the way of a good story? The story is, of course, for the general public’s consumption, and it’s all about how the RMS and NSW Police are coming down hard on these terrible law breaking truckies, yet again!

 

23 more tickets were given out to truck drivers who were found to have breached load restraint rules, either on their way in or out of the DC. If you are an inspector and you want to knock off a few truck drivers, load restraint is the easy route. The load restraint rules are not particularly clear and to get restraint right every time requires a belt and braces approach, try as many ways as possible to meet the rules. The statement implies gross negligence on the part of truck drivers.

 

In practice, the loads are secured, most of the time, in a way to ensure they don’t move and a cursory look from an inspector would see a secure load. Drivers do have experience and they definitely don’t want the load to move, so they are incentivised to make sure its secure. They are also under time constraints all of the time, so making the load secure is a priority, making it compliant to complex rules is less so, it’s human nature.

 

This doesn’t stop the spin from the RMS. These drivers are endangering the general public by using ‘broken gates, and significant amounts of goods not strapped down and only held in by side curtains’, according to the statement.

 

“Unsecured loads are not only a risk to other road users, those unloading the goods at Distribution Centres are also placed at risk,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Smith Commander of the Traffic & Highway Patrol Command said, in the press statement. “When inspecting one of the loads, a gate gave way which struck one officer and nearly hit others, which is a prime example of why loads need to be properly secured.”

 

The item inserted near the end of the statement is bound to get lost in the rush to bag truckies. There were 149 random breath tests and 38 drug tests carried out during the raid. All of them proved to be negative. This doesn’t fit with the image of the demon truck driver, so it was probably jettisoned by any journalist covering the story.

 

This is not the end of the story. RMS are promising to continue with the raids though to the end of June, so trucking operators can’t say they weren’t warned. We can also be sure the press and TV stations will also be well informed throughout ‘Operation Austrans’, showing how the NSW public can sleep safe in their beds because the RMS are getting tough with the demon truckie.

 

Last week, Diesel News reported on improved relations between truck drivers and RMS inspectors at Marulan. Now, because the spin suits them, it’s time to demonise the truckie, get a bit of political capital out of it, make the agency and minister look good.

 

Where’s the inclusive attitude? Where are the liaison officers going round the DCs chatting to drivers and explaining the rules and showing the industry how to remain compliant? Why are these raids targeting the trucks in the DC, but not the system and practice of the DC operator? The answer lies within the culture of the road authorities at the coal face. While Peter Wells, Director of Safety and Compliance, does talk the talk and engage thoughtfully with the industry, the teams on the ground are still in the business of pinging truckies.

 

 

 

 

ATA stalwart to retire

A long term campaigner for the trucking industry, working hard in the corridors of power to get a fair go for road transport in the development of regulations and new technologies has retired due to an extended illness. David Coonan has served trucking for many years as Policy Manager for the Australian Trucking Association, in fact, since 2006.

 

The former diesel mechanic worked his way up through fleet management for the ACT government to positions in both the ACT and Federal governments as a senior transport policy officer.

 

“David had an expert understanding of government process and regulation, and he was able to back it up with a detailed knowledge about how trucks and engines work,” said ATA CEO, Stuart St Clair. “For example, he could be heard in the office discussing with regulators the pin voltages on electronic brake connectors, before switching to a teleconference about truck charging.

 

“David’s major achievements at the ATA included his role in working through more than a thousand issues with the original draft of the Heavy Vehicle National Law. The law isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than it would have been if David hadn’t been involved. He was a strong advocate for the industry on heavy vehicle charging. After years of discussion, the ATA finally convinced transport ministers to review the existing charging system. As a result, the NTC concluded that the existing system would overcharge the truck and bus industries by $232 million in 2014-15.”

 

Coonan was also heavily involved in the campaign to get more high productivity vehicles on the road, working on the truck impact chart, developed with Bob Woodward, it is now a standard reference.

 

One of the main things the industry will miss is David’s passion. Many times he could be heard disapproving of comments being made on the dais at conferences, before standing up and giving chapter and verse on what was wrong with the speaker’s position. He was unwavering in his support for the trucking industry and aware of the problems rules and regulations make for the everyday working of a trucking operation.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Isn’t this what the NHVR was supposed to stop?

This week the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has announced the loosening of work diary restrictions for primary producers and their transport providers in Queensland. Just Queensland. Not nationwide, or for a small niche group, but for the farming industry in one state.

 

Good on the primary producers for getting this concession! They have obviously lobbied hard, made their case and got an exception. Nobody wants to turn down concessions which make life easier for the truckie. As of June 1, primary producers and transport companies working for them do not need to keep a record of driving hours in the work diary if they travel within 160 km of base.

 

Until the National Heavy Vehicle Law was introduced the exemption radius in Queensland was 200 km. However, it was vital to ensure there were consistent rules across Australia under the NHVL. So, the limit was reduced to 100 km, a distance all of the state authorities involved could feel comfortable with. Bingo, we have a nationally consistent law.

 

Now that consistency is gone again and other interest groups all over Australia will be looking for their exceptional case to be considered and allowed by the NHVR. Consistency should involve the NHVR going back to the states and arguing for a 160 km exemption nationally for primary produce transport. Experience tells us this would not get up.

 

This is a victory against red tape, primary producers do have a case especially over the vast distances involved for primary produce in Queensland. The is also a victory for pragmatism in the NHVR, developing a rule which will keep a section of the trucking industry happy. It is also a victory for the states to get special treatment for their own area.

 

All of those operators in Queensland, who aren’t involved with primary production and used to have a 200 km exemption, are not happy. What about the trucking operations handling primary produce just over the border in Western NSW? 100 km is the limit for them, no exceptions.

 

State legislators are happy because they have established the principle allowing them to work for individual exemption for their own interest groups, at the expense of the other states and a nationally consistent transport law.

 

What the trucking industry needs to ask itself is what do we actually want. The clarion call for decades has been for one consistent national law and a reduction in regulatory differences as you cross a state border. Is this latest change a step in the wrong direction?

Driver Drug Testing by Fingerprint

New culture in RMS

The new inclusive culture, espoused by leadership in Transport for NSW and the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) in recent times, seems to be finally filtering down to the roadside in face to face dealings with truckies. The new culture seems to be taking the sting out of an ongoing issue, namely, the issuing of defects by roadside enforcement officers during checks.

 

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“Members have told me that Inspectors at Marulan, in particular, have been taking the time to talk to operators and specify exactly why a defect has been issued,” said Emma Higginson, Executive Director of the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association. “This greatly assists operators by not having to play a guessing game when they get back to the depot, visit a mechanic etc. and importantly allows them to get back on the road sooner.

 

“It is also very pleasing from a culture perspective. The simple process of taking the time to explain why enforcement action has been taken goes a long way to increasing respect between both parties and provides greater assistance to the operator on what to look out for going forward.”

 

Changes like this are long overdue. Operator complaints about the opaque defect notices system and the difficulty in getting those defects cleared is a continuing issue in all of the states. Perhaps this glimmer of light will help oil the wheels on both sides of the divide and lead to a more civilised conversation on the roadside.

 

Nobody wants a row with the authorities and they are only doing their job, but it has been the arrogant and inflexible attitude of some roadside enforcement which has turned up the wick on conflict. Let’s hope this is not just a short term improvement, but a real change in culture which can lead to a more co-operative attitude, on both sides, when trucks are pulled in for inspection at checking stations like Marulan.

 

Where does trucking stand after the budget?

After many days of claims, counter-claims, disinformation and general information overload, the picture around future taxation and funding affecting the trucking industry has become clearer. The news appears to be good with no major changes feared by the industry coming to fruition, for now! Read more

More surprises from NSW

After reverting to type following the Mona Vale tanker crash last year, the NSW Ministry of Roads appears to be returning to the kind of inclusive and transparent organisation it has become since the O’Farrell (and now Baird) Government came into power at the last election, in 2011.

 

The latest opportunity for the stakeholders to have some real feedback into strategy and policy from Transport NSW and the Roads and Maritime Services is a call for those interested to provide input for the Newell Highway Corridor Strategy.

 

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“If your community wants additional overtaking lanes to improve travel times and road safety, I want to hear about it,” said NSW Roads Minister, Duncan Gay. “If your retail shops want a town bypass to take trucks off your main street I want to hear about it. If your regional trucking companies need more rest areas along the Newell, I want to hear about it. Importantly, I want to see this local information and feedback included in the final strategy document.”

 

A draft strategy has been published and is available at the Transport NSW website. Submissions and suggestions need to be sent to NewellHighwayStrategy@transport.nsw.gov.au by June 20.

 

Unlike many of these calls for comment in the past, this one may well be worth reacting to. There is more funding available for road building from our ‘Infrastructure’ Prime Minister and the Newell has been identified as one of the key Australian roads in need of improvement.

New CEO into the hot seat

A new CEO for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has been announced. Sal Petroccitto will start work in the new job as of May 19. He replaces Richard Hancock, who resigned suddenly a couple of months ago.

 

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Acting CEO of the NHVR, Melinda Bailey, has been holding the fort since Hancock’s departure and she has received thanks from the NHVR Board for her sterling work during a difficult period for the regulator.

 

The trucking industry will be hoping Petroccitto will be a steady hand on the tiller as the NHVR ploughs through some choppy waters. Since coming fully online on February 10, the national permit system has been floundering as a result of lack of preparation and state antipathy to the new regime, although other aspects of the NHVR task have been working effectively.

 

Since 2009, Petroccitto has been involved with the trucking industry and its issues at Queensland Transport and Main Roads, spending most of the past two years as General Manager, Roads, Rail and Ports System Management at Department of Transport & Main Roads. He is also the Queensland Government representative on the NHVR Project Implementation Board and the Board of Transport Certification Australia.

 

With this experience, he is clearly au fait with the issues facing the fledgling regulator. His job will be to steady the ship and maintain enough forward movement to ensure the reforms so badly needed by road transport will go ahead. A relatively quiet six months along with demonstrable progress should keep up momentum and restore some confidence in the NHVR and its Board.

Duncan Gay, Freight Minister

As a result of the reshuffle in the New South Wales cabinet caused by the shock resignation of Premier, Barry O’Farrell last week, Duncan Gay’s position vis-a-vis the freight industry has been reinforced. The former Minister for Roads in the O’Farrell government is now to be the Minister for Roads and Freight in the new Mike Baird government, as announced today. Read more