Relaxing motorbike rules

As of July 1 NSW are relaxing the rules on motorbikes to allow lane filtering. This means motorbikes can legally travel between queuing lines of traffic as long as the speed is below 30 kph. This is simply making legal what has been the case for some time, but there are limitations and , importantly,motorbikes will not be allowed to lane filter around trucks.

While we are on the subject of road rules this video needs to be shown much more often. The drivers of Australia seem to have collective amnesia about the traffic rules on roundabouts. One day, they will get it, but until then their cars will get sandwiched by trucks doing the right thing, on a regular basis.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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

Pennant Hills tunnel to go ahead

A long needed link in the transport chain in Sydney is to go ahead, as the NSW Government has reached an agreement with Transurban and the Westlink M7 shareholders to deliver the project they are calling the NorthConnex motorway. The road consists of twin nine kilometre tunnels to link the freeway heading south from Newcastle to the M2 and its connections into the Sydney motorway system.

 

“NorthConnex will significantly ease traffic congestion in Sydney by taking up to 5,000 trucks a day off Pennant Hills Road, while vehicles using the tunnel will bypass 21 sets of traffic lights,” said NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell. “This link will provide a continuous motorway between the Hunter and Central Coast and Western and South Western Sydney and be a quicker alternative for journeys between the Central Coast, Hunter and Sydney’s CBD.

 

“NorthConnex will make it possible to travel by road from Newcastle to Canberra and Melbourne without encountering a single traffic light. We are building for the future by constructing the tunnel with a capacity for three lanes of traffic each way. The more efficient movement of freight will deliver major benefits to the Australian and NSW economies.”

 

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This major road development comes at a high cost, around $3 billion, of which the Federal and NSW Governments are stumping up around $405 million each. The rest of the funding comes from tolls to be charged to those using the tunnels. Tolling levels are predicted to be similar to those already being charged on Sydney’s M2. This will work out to be around $18 each for trucks, for a 15 minute trip time saving.

 

In order to make this work, the NSW Government is going to have to put severe mass restrictions on trucks travelling on the, now free running, Pennant Hills Road and avoiding paying tolls. There will have to be ongoing crackdowns on toll-dodgers to make the tunnels economically viable as the authorities will have no easy way to assess whether any truck has a right to be on some roads for genuine delivery purposes, or are just saving $20.

 

The project now goes to the planning stage with community consultation and a formal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) expected to be available for comment by mid 2014.

Keep your hands off campaign

This country music ad campaign by the NSW Government aims to reduce texting by drivers and has been launched by the NSW Minister for Roads and Ports, Duncan Gay. The next stage of the ‘Get Your Hand Off It’ road safety campaign on mobile phone distraction now has three different ads, featuring three different musical genres, to get the ‘no texting while driving’ message across.

“It’s been hugely successful in sparking awareness of the risks. Our first You Tube video featuring Derek received more than 620,000 hits before being expanded to mainstream media,” said Gay at the ad launch. “I’m delighted to launch new country, rock and hip hop clips, that will also become our next TV and radio advertisements. These new videos continue to follow Derek’s misadventures as he crashes his car while Instagramming his latte.”

So here are the other genres, depending on your personal music choice:

Hip Hop:

Rock:

This is the original ad, launched last year, which set the ‘Get your hands off it’ ball rolling:

Talking Turkey About Trucking

NHVR permit problems, states in the firing line

Many in the industry may have suspected there was something fishy about the tsunami of permit applications which hit the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator on February 10, the first day of operation of the national permitting system. Anecdotal evidence seemed to point to a slowing down of the permit processing system at a state level in the lead up to the handover of responsibility to the NHVR in Brisbane. However, nobody was willing to put their head above the parapet and suggest such skullduggery took place.

 

Then up pops the ever reliable Duncan Gay, NSW Roads Minister, to imply some jurisdictions may have used this ploy to disrupt the smooth transition over to a national system in an effort to keep state control of the heavy vehicle regulatory system. The disarming Mr Gay tells us, the RMS in NSW would have had nothing to do with this kind of behaviour and have a faultless record.

 

Speaking at the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association of NSW last weekend, Gay was talking to a friendly audience who have seen him come up with reforms in recent years to give both livestock and bulk transporters some real productivity gains. The permit bungles have affected the sector as well, but the swift return of responsibility for permits to the RMS has quickly decreased the backlog in the state.

 

“The national regulator, it’s something we need, it’s something important,” said Gay at the LBCA Conference. “We have had a hiccup upfront. Can I congratulate the staff at the RMS, having given that load away, our state was in a better position than most when it went over. Some weren’t nearly as efficient as us, they had stopped processing about a month before, which was totally disingenuous, which helped create this problem.”

 

The NHVR may not have been properly prepared, as of February 10, to meet the permit challenge. A staged, sector by sector, introduction may have been a better option, to migrate the trucking industry across from one system to the other. The thing is it is hard to discern who was to blame because, apparently, some of the states were being ‘disingenuous’, but not NSW, of course.

 

There is clearly not much goodwill between some in the state transport bureaucracies and the new boys and girls running the NHVR. They need to sort themselves out pretty quickly. The trucking industry can’t sit around waiting, with loads needing permits to move, for the regulators to work through their territorial squabbles.

 

Yet again, transport operators are working in an inconsistent and unstable regulatory environment, until this is properly sorted out. It is not good for business to have an increase in uncertainty. The NHVR project has to succeed and someone needs to bang some heads together, make the transition to national permitting and take the petty politics between bureaucrats out of the equation.

Barnaby Joyce for LBCA event

The Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association of NSW reckons they have pulled off quite a coup with the decision by Federal Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce to get involved with the up coming LBCA Conference in Tamworth on March 6-8. The controversial National Party politician will join Coalition colleague, Warren Truss, Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister, as well as Duncan Gay, NSW Minister of Roads, at the event. Joyce is booked in to address the conference and also take part in an open question and answer session when delegates can quiz him over the government’s agriculture policy and its implications for the livestock and bulk hauling industry.

 

Paul Endycott speaking at the 2013 LBCA event

 

The conference will also be an opportunity to quiz the responsible person on a number of the major issues facing the trucking industry at the moment. The controversy surrounding the Cootes prosecutions fall under the remit of Peter Wells, NSW RMS Director Customer and Compliance, and Paul Endycott, General Manager Compliance Operations Branch RMS, both of whom are central figures as the fallout from the Mona Vale accident continues. Gay, Wells and Endycott will all be on the dais at Tamworth and answering delegate questions.

The other figure delegates may have a couple of questions for is the CEO of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, Richard Hancock. The permit debacle which has played out in recent weeks will still be fresh in the minds of many operators and some tough questions are sure to be asked. Hancock has never shied away from engaging one on one with the trucking industry and he has been present at just about every major event in the trucking industry since his appointment.