Remain Vigilant

Understanding Chain of Responsibility Obligations



Many of us have difficulty understanding chain of responsibility obligations and what the recent changes to the rules mean. Not only does the industry have difficulty with the concept, so do the authorities who are supposed to enforce the rules.


I suspect those who wrote the original compliance and enforcement acts over ten years ago would also struggle with some of the concepts and how to put them into practice.The proof COR is little understood lies in the fact there have been very few successful prosecutions, as well as the continuing pressure being put on trucking operators, by others in the chain, to push the limits of the rules.


The regulators need to know how dissatisfied and mystified the general population in the trucking world is with the whole COR process. Fortunately, an opportunity to supply some real feedback to those who are helping formulate future COR rules and enforcement, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, is now available.


The survey has been commissioned by the NHVR, to be handled by Macquarie University. This is an opportunity to have your say, and we need the trucking industry to get their views known on this subject. Some useful background reading is also provided (it’s only two pages) to help us formulate our thoughts. 


The information gathered should, we hope, get the message across to those who write and operate the law. They are aware of the ineffectiveness of the COR rules but not how ineffective it has been in reality.


Take the opportunity to recount some of the phone calls, veiled threats and even open threats used to enable the big customers keep their noses clean while the smaller operator gets the job done by stretching the truth.


As with many of the issues in the trucking industry, this is a competent, willing and, sometimes, desperate trucking industry trying to provide an efficient service to a supply chain which is inefficient.


Customers make promises to their customers on which they cannot deliver, because their production, warehousing, invoicing are inefficient or poorly run.Goods destined for a particular customer are often coming off the production line or out of storage just a little too late to make it on time.


That’s OK, you have a willing trucking company who need the work with this customer to survive. Truck loaded, the driver goes to collect his POD paperwork only to find a delivery time which is impossible to meet well within the law. The result is a stretching of the rules and the risk to everyone on the roads of serious injury or worse.


Yet again, we see a highly efficient transport industry bailing out the inefficient customer, at the risk to its own livelihood. Fill out the survey and tell them what it’s really like! 

Talking Turkey About Trucking

How Serious Are We About Fuel Economy?

This is a question which pops up regularly, how serious are we about fuel economy? The answer is invariably, not much, with some creditable exceptions. On a recent visit to the UK, I was sitting listening to a major fleet operator talking about all of the work the company has put in to get some real benefits for the business, by thinking about fuel use.


The fleet is mainly involved with DC to supermarket or shopping centre distribution, in a similar set up to many operations in Australia, albeit on a larger scale but over shorter distances. Over half of the trucks doing the task are owned by the company, the rest belong to one single sub-contractor.


Fuel economy, alongside driver safety and comfort, are major considerations when thinking about getting the job done. The ownership structure of the business also contributes to the buy-in from the drivers, they are treated as part owners, ‘partners’ in the operation.


First cab off the rank would get drivers well offside in most situations. By going for less powerful trucks than the rest of the industry, drivers find they have less get up and go under their right foot. However, the tandem axle trailers and 4×2 prime movers do not need to any more than 340 hp to get the job done.


This gives the fleet an immediate fuel advantage. ‘More horses means they need more hay’ is how the problem was illustrated. Real fuel savings were found by the operation. Most competitors run 400 hp trucks.


The company also got really serious about aerodynamics and not only redesigned the trailers it used, but got the resultant savings tested and quantified by researchers at Cambridge University and an independent Government research facility. The team spent money to save money.


Although the savings from work on the prime mover was a limited success and dropped, the changes to the trailer design gained the operation a seven per cent improvement in fuel efficiency. No-one would sniff at this kind of cut in costs.


The driver buy-in is backed up by regular training and coaching based on the data retrieved from the truck telematics. A number of parameters and warning signs are noted and pointed out to the driver. The emphasis is not just about saving fuel, but more about driving the truck properly, all of the time.


This is backed up by a real bonus every year. The more profitable the company is, the higher the bonus. Everyone is incentivised to cut costs and be careful. Bonuses of 10 per cent of salary are not unusual and have been much higher in the past. That’s a real incentive!


You could point out this is a UK operation and laws about carbon emissions are driving some of the savings, but this is much more than that, this is an operation really looking at saving fuel in a rational and effective manner.


There are environmental gains to be had from this kind of effort, but the emphasis has been on making real savings to the bottom line, regardless of the environmental impact. How many in Australia can put hand on heart and say they really have gone this far?

Remain Vigilant

Too Much Information?

Is it a case of too much information? Or is it, in fact, more the case, there is just not enough information? The correct answer is not enough information, as a result of neglect and not enough funding over a long period.


This neglect and the resulting lack of knowledge and information is having a detrimental effect on the productivity o the trucking industry, therefore on the productivity of all of Australian industry and a resulting negative impact on Gross Domestic Product.


What are we lacking? A realistic idea of the condition of our road network and a real lack of people who work for and on behalf of local authorities who actually understand what their roads can or cannot handle.


In the past, all of this information fell between the cracks. The State governments knew a little bit about their roads but not a lot. Chronic underfunding in local councils meant there was a very low level of understanding about the quality, or otherwise, of our road stock.


It is this deficit in knowledge which has brought our access options for trucks to the difficult and time consuming schmozzle it has become. It’s a bit like the blind leading the blind, and the poor old trucking industry is the one left in the dark.


The relationship between road authorities and trucking operators has been problematic for some time. Arbitrary decisions made by public servants with next to no knowledge about the capabilities of the road, and the truck seeking permission to use it, has caused friction between all parties involved.


It was only with the arrival of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, there was the possibility to see some light at the end of the tunnel. However, when the NHVR first got involved we got a short sharp glimmer of light snuffed out by the collapse of the permit granting process when the NHVR came online in 2014.


Now it has regrouped, the NHVR now seems to have a grasp on the size and scope of the mountainous task it faces in the quest to develop a rational and functional road access system, with which both the road managers and the trucking industry are happy.


Now the NHVR has a handle on the issues and has developed an online system for applying for and granting access permits for a limited number of sectors. This has been coupled with a strong drive to develop a growing raft of notices to reduce the need for the myriad of pointless access applications operators have had to go through in the past.


Now, the meat of the problem is being attacked as the Local Government Heavy Vehicle Access Forum convened. This is the first of a number of such fora and drew representatives from 50 local governments from Queensland and New South Wales.


This will give everyone involved in the glacial progress to better road access to become part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. The idea is to shed some light into the dark, and provide knowledge and assistance to the people charged by local authorities to make the call on which truck can and cannot use a particular stretch of the road network.


This is going to be another long hard slog for the NHVR but by bringing to the table the experiences and decision making knowledge it has gleaned from the access discussions it has had with the few local authorities who have got on board and worked alongside industry to get rational access, there is a chance to share improved knowledge.


We, as an industry, have been waiting a long time for some real progress on this issue and this next step is clearly a positive one. However, ‘there’s many a slip between cup and lip’ as they say, so, we are not holding our breath for a substantial breakthrough quite yet.


As usual, the trucking industry, always under pressure to deliver higher and higher productivity, will, yet again, have to be patient and wait while the knowledge levels out there in local-government-land slowly but surely get up to speed.

I’m Looking Out For a Hero

I’m looking out for a hero after last week’s NatRoad conference ended with gongs being handed out to veteran members of the two associations which merged to form the current organisation, back in the nineties. It was a time for a bit of nostalgia and there is always someone whose speech can go on a little bit too long. Read more

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Knowledge is Power

The theme of this week’s NatRoad Conference is ‘Knowledge is Power’, one of those catchall types of phrase which can be interpreted many ways. In this particular case, the implication is clear. If the trucking industry learns one thing from 2016, it should be about keeping everyone in the industry informed.


One of the reasons the whole RSRT managed to slip under the radar and hit many in the industry by surprise at the last minute, in some cases, was because we are not very good at information in trucking. Rumour and misinformation abound in an industry used to working in isolation in thousands of separate silos.


We are not very good at talking to each other and even worse at passing on information when we get it. Such a diverse industry with thousands of operations from the massive nationals to the huge numbers of small mum-and-dad firms seem to be oblivious of each other.


Trucking people are used to working in small groups, where co-operation is mutually beneficial, but have a problem communicating their problems to a wider audience. This behaviour pattern has grown up over many years and will continue, unless we do something about it.


If everyone who was going to be affected by the last order put out by the RSRT had known what was happening in the week or so before Christmas, a lot of grief could have been avoided. Those in the know needed to get the message out to everyone and the possible channels of communication were limited.


Sitting in a meeting called by the Small Business Ombudsman and hearing how many operators only realised what was going on when they picked up something on Facebook in the lead up to the introduction of the order on April 4, was a bit of a wake up call.


We did demonstrate our power as a group, in the end. By the time the abolition became a definitive possibility the industry had mobilised, and anyone not aware of what was going on must have been living under a rock.


Happening in the early stages of an election campaign certainly helped. The politicians were particularly keen to get their faces out there on the TV saying something to get them back into Parliament. All of a sudden the truckie had lots of friends, who had never acknowledged them before.


As one of those channels of communication, we here at Diesel have to take our share of the blame. Could we have got the story out any better? Probably. Did we learn lessons about what it takes to talk to the trucking industry? We certainly did.


Knowledge is power, and we need to remember that when we communicate with each other. Passing on knowledge also imparts power to the receiver. If we can get talking to each other right, just think what the trucking industry could achieve together.

Remain Vigilant

Trucking, We Are The Unknown Unknown

The debacle which constitutes a census this week means the population of Australia now feels just like we do in trucking, we are the unknown unknown. As a result of a cyber attack or gross incompetence on the part of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, an idea of where this country stands and an accurate picture of the population’s make up is unlikely to appear.


This is much the same as the situation the trucking industry has always been in, completely in the dark. Historically, no-one, the government, the operators or the industry associations, has had any idea of what the trucking industry actually looks like.


We all know what it looks like from our point of view, like a single person standing somewhere in the Nullarbor trying to work out how big Australia is and how many people live in it. We can have no clear idea.


Admittedly, we do have some information. The Truck Industry Council tells us how many trucks we have bought this month. The Australian Road Transport Suppliers Association does a sterling job monitoring the registration data from all of the states and tries to make head or tail of it. The ABS itself does give a some statistics but we are often lumped in with other parts of the freight industry or have a large number of truck operators classified in their own industry, not as road transport.


There we have it, we truly are the unknown unknown. As a result, we do not appear in those many statistics policy makers are wont to spout when telling us what’s good for us. It also means any legislation aimed at our industry will often be way off the mark, the RSRT being a prime example.


During those heady days in March and April, when the media and top politicians actually discovered the trucking industry and perused our issues from afar, the variation in the statistics quoted was alarming.


How many owner/drivers are there? 25,000? 50,000? What proportion of the trucking industry are they? 50 per cent? 75 per cent? In how many accidents is the rate paid for the load a factor in its cause? What are the pressing issues concerning small operators in the trucking industry?


The answer to all of the above is, of course, we don’t know. As a result of actually not knowing how can we actually formulate policy and regulations to improve the industry, its safety and its effectiveness? We can’t, instead we have to make an educated guess and hope for the best.


Another illustration of our lack of knowledge was seen in the aftermath of the Mona Vale tanker crash three years ago. Reporting statistics gleaned from roadside checks and roadworthys told us most of the trucks on our roads were safe.


However, a few raids by the Roads and Maritime Services in NSW showed us a very high proportion of trucks had brake defects. Whether this was a result of bad maintenance practices, moving the goalposts or incompetence, no-one knows. We are none the wiser.


At least the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator is looking for some clarity. The exercise of doing spot checks on 9,000 trucks this month, all made using the same criteria should give us some reliable data to work with.


It is also likely to uncover data certain stakeholders don’t want to hear. It may show operators are running trucks without a care for public safety, it may show some state jurisdictions get safer trucks than others or it may show we know nothing about the industry.


Even if the data from this exercise does come up with real effective information, it is still only a small chink of light in a vast amount of darkness. Trucking is going to need a wide array of these kinds of survey to get a handle on who we are and where we stand. Until then, we just have to suck it up and learn to live with ill-advised policy and a lottery of new laws governing the industry.

Remain Vigilant

The Problem for Melbourne

Spending a week in the city has made me think the problem for Melbourne and its trucking industry is a microcosm of the problems found just about everywhere in Australia. Although the scale of freight and the geography is very different from a lot of the country, the same core issues exist.


One of the big ticket items for the trucking community is infrastructure, or rather the lack of the right kind of infrastructure. Th freight task just keeps on growing, but there has not been the right kind of investment in the roads and rail. The short term political cycle doesn’t help with a major infrastructure project like the East West scheme being commissioned and then, rather expensively dropped, by an incoming government.


When it comes to things like infrastructure, long term thinking is needed, real nation building vision. This is not something we can expect to see from out politicians who can only think in three or four year chunks and don’t give a monkey’s about anything further out.


Victoria has made progress with, what it calls, high productivity vehicles. New routes have been opened up to quad axle trailers and super B-doubles. There is also some work being done on bridges to extend their reach further. As with any extension like this, it comes at a cost, strict monitoring and specialised vehicles only useable on particular routes.


The PBS system has worked well for many tipper and dog operators in Melbourne. A quick run along any major route in the city will flush out some awesome dog trailers with five or six axles fitted. There are even some A-doubles appearing on the highway, something thought to be impossible in Victoria just a few years ago.


On the flip side there has been some contraction of access in some areas and calls to be even tougher on trucks. This is not the case of road managers stopping trucks using certain routes, it is the local residents.


Melbourne has been a hotbed for vociferous groups of local residents getting out there and trying to stop truck traffic in their local area. The Port is situated in the heart of the city and the thousands of containers leaving it every day have to go somewhere. There is a distinct lack of dedicated access routes in and out of the port.


The anti-truck group in Maribyrnong has been particularly trenchant in its views and a great deal of ill will has been generated in the community towards the trucking industry, much of it ill-informed. The group’s profile has seen other areas jump on the bandwagon and try and drive trucks off the streets.


The North East of the city is now seeing night curfews and truck bans being put in place which have had the effect of disrupting the normal flow of freight through the area. Often there is no alternative and trucks have to do a circuit around the west of the city, adding to both journey times and costs.


These problems come from something which is a national concern for us all, the public perception of trucking. The industry in Melbourne tries over and over again to counter the many misconceptions and refusal to understand the vital part freight transport plays in their quality of life.


A quote which illustrates the problem for the whole of the trucking industry throughout the country was relayed to me about a lady who was fighting to have trucks stopped from passing through her leafy suburb. When it was pointed out the coffee needed to make her latté, had to be delivered by a truck, she replied, “Oh well, you can let that one through!”

Remain Vigilant

Australia Needs a Towing License

‘Australia Needs a Towing License’, this is the title of a piece written by Joseph Van Woerkom on the Caravan and Motorhome website. Finally, someone on the other side of the great divide gets it, there are people running around the roads of Australia towing caravans who have no idea what they are doing and are a danger to themselves and others on the road, many of whom are truck drivers.


A car driver can set up a car and caravan combination weighing 13.5 tonnes and drive it on their car driving license. at the same time a truck driver has to be two license levels above that to drive a similar commercial vehicle. This truck would also have a much better braking system and truck to trailer weight distribution.


Joseph goes on to explain the physics of the situation, where the caravan pivots on both horizontal and vertical plane. A car and caravan at this weight is, inherently much less stable than a truck of equal weight.


The obvious conclusion is the driver of the car pulling the caravan should have to undergo training and pass a test before they are allowed to take to the highways of Australia. This a point with which the whole trucking industry would heartily agree.


Each year around holiday time, truck drivers have their collective hearts in their mouths at the prospect of sharing the road with drivers who are often incompetent and sometimes downright dangerous.


What was gratifying was to see the tone of the comments by readers at the end of this article. they were generally supportive and understanding of the need to get the car and caravan public up to speed and capable of handling their ‘monster’ combinations.


Add into the mix the well known fact, being bandied about, stating 85 per cent of all accidents involving trucks are not the fault of the truck or its driver. Then it becomes obvious the onus should be on getting other drivers on the road up to speed and cognisant of the dynamics of their vehicle, and armed with strategies to keep it running straight and true.


All we need is a brave politician willing to vote to place an extra burden on the car driving public in order to make our roads safer. We can be certain there will be not a single one queueing up at the prospect of introducing new legislation to ensure those members of the public driving caravans are able to handle them.


Let’s just hope we don’t end up in a situation where a rash of accidents with caravans involved force the politicians hand to do something about a situation which is literally ‘an accident waiting to happen’!


Fixing Road Charging for the Trucking Industry

The whole issue of fixing road charging for the trucking industry pays in rego, or some other form of tax, is again up for discussion. The National Transport Commission has a discussion paper out at the moment asking for submissions from stakeholders about the way the trucking industry pays for the wear and tear it creates on our road system.

Currently, the NTC asks governments what monies they spend each year on road repairs and maintenance and then divvies the amount up between the different trucks and trailers using the roads. This gives them an amount of rego to be charged for each vehicle and a level of fuel subsidy. This is designed to come up with the figure originally given by governments. Read more

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Do We Really Want Better Productivity?

Every week, or more often, we hear someone else telling us about a drive for better productivity. Needless to say, quite often the person talking it up has something to sell. A new technology, a new leaner meaner truck, a training package on offer.


There are also some evangelical souls in trucking who espouse fuel economy and put their money where their mouth is, the obvious example being winding the speed limiter back to 90 km/h. Some even pay a bonus to fuel efficient drivers.


Of course, there are many ways of cutting down costs and improving productivity. Put in the hard work to get PBS approval for a new vehicle, an A-double perhaps, and the gains in productivity are shown to outweigh the cost easily. Getting there has been a long and arduous journey for many operators, but has proven to be worth it.


Yes we are also told the PBS process is getting quicker and cheaper, so the gains are available at a lower costs. However, this also lowers the barrier to entry and all of a sudden the job is flooded with many more higher productivity vehicles, with the inevitable downward pressure on rates rearing its ugly head.


The two biggest components in the cost of running a truck are the driver and the fuel. The operator has no control over the price of diesel and has to live with its ups and downs, but so does everyone else.


The driver is another matter. Yes, there is a minimum wage and there are different ways to pay the driver, but it often comes down to the ‘paying peanuts getting monkeys’ scenario. Better paid drivers tend to look after the truck a little better, but that’s about it.


In fact, in the hands, and feet, of the driver is one of the best tools for improving productivity, but so many trucking businesses don’t use it. Driving style can save the operator of a truck around 20 per cent of fuel costs, if, and it’s a big if, they are willing to buy into a change in culture and driving style.


I started driving trucks nearly forty years ago and throughout most of my driving career didn’t give a monkey’s about how much fuel I was using. Apart from two stints owning my own truck, I was never incentivised enough by my employer to save fuel.


Of course, they would complain about it sometimes, but I wasn’t fussed about changing old habits and they sure as hell weren’t going to give me the tools to improve my fuel use.


So why do we put training and supporting drivers to reduce fuel consumption in the ‘too hard’ basket? Is it because truck drivers are unteachable? Is it because they don’t want to be paid more if they use less fuel? I think the answer to both these questions is no.


A driver who is gentler on the gear will not only save you money in fuel costs, they will also reduce the maintenance bill. If a driver is properly compensated for driving fuel efficiently, they will report a fault ASAP, in order for it not to effect their fuel saving compensation.


Surely offering training now and ongoing training in the future, alongside a scheme to share fuel cost savings with the driver is going to be worth it? We now have the technology in trucks to trace who is driving it when and with a bit of IT wizardry, payments could be calculated.