Talking Turkey About Trucking

Maximising productivity


All the time a truck is parked up it is spending money not making it, so one of the best ways of making money is to keep the truck moving. This is one of the simplest rules to follow in terms of productivity in the trucking industry.


I have recently spent a week in Italy at the global launch of the new Daily van range and noticed just how our European cousins perform in the productivity stakes. The trucks in Europe spend a lot of time not moving, the inefficiency is palpable as trucks will spend large chunks of the day and night sitting idle.


Now, this is not a dig at the idle Italians or Australian arrogance about our superior trucking industry, it is simply an observation about the practices on the two different continents. The sharp contrast between the two systems serves to demonstrate just how much more efficiently we are using our resources (vehicles) than some of the most sophisticated economies on earth.


The problem for the Europeans is the regulatory environment. Driving hours rules are strictly enforced and extremely stringent when compared to our own. The maximum number of hours a driver can drive in one day is ten hours, and only for two days in a week. The rest of the time they are limited to just nine hours driving. Overall in the week they must not exceed, averaging over a two week period, 54 hours driving.


At the same time congestion on the busy European motorway network means drivers are not guaranteed to reach planned destinations reliably in the allocated time. The combination of limited driving hours and uncertain scheduling mean a lot of slack has to be built into the system to ensure the goods get to the customer reliably on schedule.


The slack built in to the scheduling means there is a lot of idle time for drivers and trucks. A load being shifted to a site 8.5 hours away is not guaranteed to get to the destination in a single shift. As a result, the schedulers have to always assume the worst and get trucks and loads close to their destination well in time for their slot.


Of course, this ends up with loads waiting close to their destination for long periods of time. The punishment for a late delivery can be very harsh. In my own experience, we lost up to $1000 an hour on a load rate if the truck missed its allotted delivery time. This was urgent perishables, but the payment structure certainly concentrated the mind on making absolutely sure the truck didn’t miss its window. Often this meant a truckie getting a good run was on site over twenty hours before delivery time.


This kind of wasted time is very expensive, in terms of productivity. Waiting around all day would be completely unacceptable in an operation in Australia. We are lucky to be able to work with uncongested inter-capital routes and fatigue rules which give some flexibility to the driver in managing rest.


Of course, all of our competitors have the same opportunities and rates reflect this. Therefore, our fantastic productivity capabilities do not result in equally high profitability for Australian trucking. Comparison with the European system does give us an opportunity to understand our trucking industry is at the leading edge of transport and logistics around the world. Looking at Europe we are able to benchmark our industry and realise we are not going quite as badly as we thought!


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.





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?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Biting the bullet on road charging

The report, this week, from the National Commission of Audit has received plenty of air play this week in the news, but a significant aspect of the report for the road transport industry went largely unreported. This saw the subject of mass/distance/location again being raised and recommended by the Commission.


Every time a government agency, commission or working party looks into road charging the idea of charging trucks for the actual roads they use at a specified weight is brought into play. Bureaucrats in this space have been hearing the same message over and over, they are not going to let go of this idea, especially as the development of electronics has made it increasingly economically viable.


At the same time, the current road charging regime is irrevocably broken, and has been for some time. The trucking industry has been clinging onto the series of charging determinations since 2000, hoping against hope we can keep the diesel fuel tax credits. This was the saviour of the trucking industry in the past but has been under constant attack, from all sides, in recent years.


The charging regime was inherently unfair to many in the industry, as can be evidenced by the indignation expressed every time a new charging level was set. The changes tried to pull the economic levers to improve the situation of the trucking industry but often punished the industry. The over charging on lead trailers being the prime example.


It is probably about time trucking threw up our hands and admitted there is going to be some form of mass/distance/location charging in our future, with some form of black box in every cabin recording how much we owe the government, dobbing us in for working. If we get onboard early we will probably be able to materially effect the outcome and get the best possible result to reward and improve productivity.


Standing outside the process and complaining about it is unlikely to win any friends and gives state bureaucrats open slather on getting their infrastructure funding concerns considered over the needs of the road freight industry.


We could also aim for a pragmatic approach to the recording of movements. It is important to avoid the single expensive black box being mandated onto our trucks. There is an alternative, with a standard of record keeping and reporting being required which operators can meet with the equipment of their choice. Probably using existing tracking equipment.


There is little point trying to stop the inevitable. Maybe we should make the best we can of a bad job, and be done with it.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Learning from Rod Hannifey

Quite often in this column the issue causing grief is the way the trucking industry is perceived by the wider community. Trucking, in general, presents itself badly out on the streets, with truck drivers reinforcing stereotypes in the public’s mind by being intimidating and thoughtless.


We are even worse at presenting ourselves in the media, there seems to be a collective lack of awareness about how to get our point across without giving the general media a chance to put us and our industry down.


The one exception to this is a person who works on his own, independent of any organisation, holding down a full-time truck driving job at the same time as interacting with the media and government. Rod Hannifey is well known for banging on about the same topics for many years, but he has been effective and is regularly featured in news reports about the industry. Unfortunately the biggest news doco of the year, Four Corners, chose to ignore him and concentrate on an unrepresentative rogue element to represent truckies.


Rod’s strength does not come from who he represents or from an important sounding job title, it comes from a concentrated long term effort to get the right message across to the right people. The message is always plain and simple, he hits the same notes consistently, driving home the safety, responsibility, courtesy message on the roads and documenting the state of our highways to the authorities.


Compare this to the mixed messages and non-soundbite material put out by other spokespeople for trucking. Often the real message gets caught up with politically correct jargon obscuring the stark reality. There is a reluctance to criticise those who are at fault, especially those in the industry, and a certain amount of in-fighting among those representing us. The only media which pick up on these releases are the trucking trade publications, talking only to the truckies, not the general population.


Rod Hannifey gets little coverage in the trade mags, he’s more interested in talking to local media and TV stations out on the road, where the trucking industry actually functions. The most recent coverage he has received was from the West Coast Sentinel, a newspaper based in Ceduna at the Eastern end of the Nullarbor crossing. The message was clear and simple, reducing accidents, by improving car drivers’ understanding of trucks, and improved rest stops for drivers.


Look at the side of the Truckright B-double Rod drives around the nation and there is a lot of reading to be done. The message is set out in all of its detail for anyone to read, Rod understands the bigger issues and will offer an opinion. Talking to us in the industry he can be as long winded as the rest of us are.


However, turn up next to his cab with a notepad, camera or voice recorder and he will go into simplified message mode. You will see him hitting the same bullet points to make it easy for the media, for whom the truckie’s world is another planet, to put together a straightforward good news story with an important positive message. Job done! Why can’t the rest of us do it?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Making drivers too safe

At this time of year the subject of the death toll on our roads comes to the front of the mind. The madness on the highways around Easter sees thousands of car drivers travelling too far, for too long on unfamiliar roads in overloaded or badly loaded cars. At the same time, the poor truckie has to try and do the job of keeping the supermarket shelves stacked high with goods for the Easter rush.


The kind of driving behaviour exhibited by some car drivers in holiday mode taking on cross country trips exemplifies one of the major causes of mayhem on our roads, drivers being unaware of other vehicles on the road and feeling safely cocooned in the comfort of a modern car with all of the safety systems available.


Countless campaigns fail to make any impression on driver psychology around trucks. Being unaware of a vehicle nearby is extremely dangerous at the best of times, when the vehicle is a truck, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Making manoeuvres assuming the truck will move out of the way, slow down or stop constitutes risk-taking behaviour. Most of the problems which occur stem from car drivers’ lack of awareness and knowledge.


Luckily for them, and the road toll figures, the truck driver is aware, very aware. They have had plenty of experience compensating for the lack of knowledge among car drivers and have to assume the car driver’s behaviour will endanger everyone’s life.


For truck drivers the inherent danger involved in travelling the highway is always front of mind. Being attached to the front of a massive lump of metal and material weighing 60 plus tonnes at 100 km/h, with a minimum stopping distance of 100 metres on a good day, concentrates the mind wonderfully.


How can we engender this kind of fear into the car driving population? How come the general public feel fear when another ‘monster trucks’ story appears on A Current Affair, but drive their cars oblivious to the potential danger all around them? Where is the education going to come from, or do we just have to live with some dangerous drivers in cars putting all of our lives at risk?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Remuneration Order looms over trucking

It’s only a few weeks away, the Road Safety Remuneration Order, better known as the ‘Road Transport and Distribution and Long Distance Operations Road Safety Remuneration Order 2014’, comes into force on May 1. Are you ready? Is anyone ready? The order has crept up on us with minimal publicity and little advance information.


Where the uncertainty lies is in whether the order will be acted upon by the authorities. The Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is a creature of the last Labor Government at federal level and is, therefore, anathema to the Abbott government. The assumption has been the law would be repealed by an incoming Coalition Government but there is very little action yet and the deadline draws close.


Senator Eric Abetz, who is the Minister responsible for this area of the law had commissioned a report into whether the order is a duplication of the existing regulation and whether it achieves anything. The report was due back to the Minister by the end of March, and this is all we currently know.


Clearly, the way the commission was worded indicated an assumption the order was simply a replication of the current rules. We can therefore assume the report will conclude this to be the case. Even with a report saying this, it is not clear how the trucking industry stands, as of May 1.


At the moment, there is an order, it is law and it comes into force in a fortnight. There may be a report on the Ministers desk saying the order is pointless, but the legislation is still extant and road transport operators can be liable as of the start date. The Government has said the Carbon Tax will be repealed, it is still on the statute books and Tony Abbott will need to get his ducks in a row in the Senate to repeal it.


At 13 pages, the order is not a simple read. The first thing anyone needs to know is whether they are covered by the order and what their exposure is. Operators need to work out which of their drivers and sub-contractors are covered by the order and then ensure compliance on a number of counts. Contracts between employer and employee, as well as between contractor and sub-contractor, and safe driving plans have to meet specific criteria set out in the order. There are also specifications on training, drug and alcohol policy and payment periods.


Failure to comply with the order, even if it is short lived, could have serious consequences. Prosecutions could happen and even if the rules are about to be repealed, operators will still be found in breach. We might not like it but we will have to live with it, for now.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Is the trucking industry ready for new challenges?

Unfortunately, working in the trucking industry, we are destined to always be living in ‘interesting times’. There has never been a time in living memory when people involved in road transport haven’t been lurching from one potential crisis to the next. It’s in the industry’s DNA, the tendency to wait until a problem gets big enough to take drastic action to solve the issue. It’s a bit like the way many of the more traditional truckies run their business. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Keeping up the pressure over NHVR

The shock resignation of the CEO of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator last week has further set back the prospects of a national regulator for the road transport industry. This is not a crisis but it could become one if the trucking industry doesn’t co-operate with and aid the fledgling regulator to get up and running. Read more