Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall

For many advocates for the trucking industry it can often feel like you are banging your head against a brick wall. There are some important points we need to get into the public domain and be brought to the attention of those in power. There are also plenty of barriers in the way of anyone trying to speak up for all of the people involved in trucking.

The industry faces a number of challenges, all of which have conspired to make it very difficult for the correct information, in the right context, to be laid out in front of people outside the industry. Read more

The Meat in the Sandwich

The trucking industry is very much the meat in the sandwich, in the ongoing arguments about charges by the big stevedores. So called infrastructure charges are simply price gouging by the very small number of powerful national companies, who are running our ports, to maintain their margins at the expense of transport companies already running on much thinner margins.

After the latest announcement this week, the Victorian Transport Association is urging its members to pass on the charges to their customers in order to make the end customer pay for the increased cost for the truckies at the sharp end. Easier said than done! Read more

Complex Answers to Complex Questions

Some of the issues facing the trucking industry require complex answers to complex questions. There are no black and white solutions available, we need to be smart about the issues and even smarter about the way we solve them.

What we are talking about has been sparked by the decision of the authorities in NSW to organise a blitz on all truckies across four states in response to a spike in fatalities in accidents involving trucks in NSW. Read more

Modernise the Fleet

The increased fatality figures in New South Wales have led to calls to modernise the fleet. The shock of the steep increase in deaths in 2017 has provoked a reaction and a number of different solutions have been put forward, including fleet modernisation.

First of all it was Michael Byrne, Toll CEO, in his open letter to the Prime Minister which called for a number of changes. This has been followed by a call from the Truck Industry Council also citing the high average age of the Australian fleet and the corresponding lack of modern safety equipment. Read more

A Result, of Sorts

The recent attention given to the trucking industry has led to a result, of sorts, for those trying to bring important issues affecting trucking to the fore. The bad news about increased accidents involving trucks, specifically in New South Wales led to a lot of media reaction and some useful initiatives by stakeholders.

One of the good signs was a more measured approach by some of the media. In the past, any kind of bad news like this would be reported with a litany of horrific truck accidents and little commentary from anyone apart from the Transport Workers Union, who would invariably fan the flames. Read more

Ramping Up the Safety Agenda

Recent events have seen a number of people ramping up the safety agenda, but it shouldn’t need severe criticism from elsewhere to get us fired up. The trucking industry needs to stand together as a single unit on these kinds of issues and present a strong and practical front, backed up by good PR, there is no room for error.

It all started with the road crash statistics from last year. Although relatively low in number, the percentage jump in deaths from accidents involving trucks in NSW was something the anti-trucking  lobby could hang their arguments on. Read more

Remain Vigilant

Heading Them Off At The Pass

The latest crash figures are raising issues and the trucking industry should be heading them off at the pass. The numbers look bad in some areas and are providing fuel to those who want to take the big stick to trucking.

 

We have been down this road many times before and it’s about time we learnt our lesson. There has been a blip in accident figures which are largely unexplained. We have seen the number of deaths resulting from accidents involving trucks on our roads gradually get lower year-on-year since the eighties, until now.

 

The reasons for this are many. but the increased awareness of the importance of safety within the trucking industry were one of the major contributors to the drop in fatalities. This result is something which shines a positive light on the trucking industry.

 

The mayhem on the roads of NSW in late 1989 were a catalyst for the changes. The deaths of a large number of people in two accidents involving buses on the Pacific Highway provoked a government backlash, which could have had a drastic effect on the way the trucking industry operated.

 

That backlash was largely averted by a massive campaign to get road safety front and centre in the minds of those working with trucks. Smart initiatives demonstrated a genuine commitment from a major part of the road transport industry to run a safe operation. The initiatives included the Transport Workers Union and the industry projected a united front to the authorities to assure them of the reality of the changes.

 

Last year’s accident figures show increased accidents involving trucks in New South Wales. This is enough for campaigners against the trucking industry to be able to start to talking up measures like the infamous remuneration tribunal. There’s been an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald blaming productivity-based pay for the accident increase.

 

Opposition Transport Spokesperson, Anthony Albanese was interviewed on the ABC about rising car accident figures in Australia. He did not miss out on the opportunity to mention truck accident numbers and call for something like the RSRT to return to the statute books.

 

This should be a call to action for the trucking industry. If we don’t want something like the RSRT to rear it’s ugly head, then we need to come up with a viable alternative. There are some initiatives going on at the moment which should be effective in reducing truck related deaths, but they do not have the quick fix logic, or image, the RSRT possessed.

 

This is where we have to be smart about the topic. The trucking industry needs to present a genuine and easily explained potential solution to these headline accident figures. It has to be something the media would report and it has to have credibility.

 

This has been a perennial problem for the industry. There have been safety initiatives and real improvements in outcomes across the board, but it has not been communicated professionally and the cowboy operators who grab the headlines and drag the industry down are, firstly tolerated, and then do something to tarnish the image of the whole industry.

Remain Vigilant

Clogging Up the New Year

Continued congestion issues mean we will be clogging up the New Year even more than the last one. Productivity will be compromised by unreliable delivery times and the customer will not be willing to pay a congestion levy.

 

Congestion in Australian cities is increasing every year and, according to the latest Cost of Congestion report from Tom Tom Telematics, $3.5 billion worth of time is lost each year because of traffic issues.

 

Traffic in our ten busiest cities is increasing travel times by 28 per cent. Sydney is congestion top dog and Perth is the only city which didn’t see an increase in congestion last year. Melbourne and the Gold Coast are growing fast with a four per cent increase in congestion in the last year.

 

As with many of the statistics put out by major companies and agencies, the road transport industry is ignored. There are figures in the report for light commercial vehicles and light rigid trucks and the 160,000 plus vehicles included are losing well over 19 million hours each year to congestion.

 

If this is the case for these smaller flexible vehicles with minimal access restrictions, the effect on heavier trucks must be more profound, with less opportunity to divert through city back streets.

 

The cost to trucking is extremely difficult to quantify. It’s no good counting the number of loads which arrive late. Smart operators wanting to keep a contract will pull loading times forward to ensure the goods do reach their destination in time. The customer carries on receiving its goods at the right time and sees little effect from congestion.

 

However, the fact of the matter is it is taking longer and longer each year to get truck Z from point A to point B and there seems to be little we can do about it. The big customer/small operator power imbalance means the trucking operation will have to suck it up, when looking at congestion.

 

There is no cure for congestion, but there are ways of improving outcomes. Unfortunately, improving congestion comes down to improving infrastructure, or improving the way we use the infrastructure.

 

Infrastructure is a very expensive business, costing billions on top of billions. This makes it politically sensitive, governments have to sell infrastructure spending to the electorate. There are more votes in the car driving community than there are in the truck community, and the votes driving cars are more likely to live in the local constituency.

 

Any infrastructure is likely to prioritise improvement for car traffic, which should have a knock-on effect of improving congestion out comes for truckies to some extent.

 

So, there’s a conundrum to ponder while you are sitting in a traffic queue on in one of our cities over the next few weeks, trying to get down to the beach, or into a DC, who is willing to pay for all of us clogging up the New Year?

Remain Vigilant

Why Are Major Companies Disconnecting Safety Systems?

The question has to be asked, why are major companies disconnecting safety systems on their trucks? Combinations are running around with ABS or EBS fitted on trailers but disconnected from the prime mover. This is essentially disabling a sophisticated electronic system from doing its job, which is improving safety and saving lives.

 

The major question that is exercising my mind is what is the basic philosophy and thinking behind someone making a decision to deliberately disable a safety system? We can only guess at the actual motives of those involved. We can be sure that if the proverbial did hit the fan, and one of these vehicles was involved in a major incident, the reactions by the media and the public to the knowledge, that the EBS was turned off, would lead to great deal of truckie bashing.

 

There are two issues at play here. One is a wording in the rules that has led some people to read it to mean their truck will be compliant even with the ABS/EBS disconnected. This is not something we need to discuss here. The chances are, the rules’ wording will be tightened up in 2018.

 

The second issue is more of a big-picture problem. Just because there is a loophole in the law, doesn’t mean you have to use it. However, there is good evidence to suggest a large number of trucks are running around our highways, fully loaded, with the ABS or EBS unplugged.

 

We are not talking about livestock trucks running on dirt roads. They do have cause to disconnect ABS on dirt as the system will compromise stopping distances on loose ground. We are talking about trucks and trailers running on the major highways at full mass.

 

The problem seems to be some people, including a lot of drivers, don’t ‘believe’ in ABS or EBS. They seem to think it is like global warming, something invented by scientists to shut down coal powered power stations. There is a belief EBS and ABS don’t brake a combination as well as a skilled driver.

 

When ABS/EBS is mandated on trucks and trailers, some drivers complain bitterly about how the system keeps on cutting in and slowing the truck. There is also a belief the only way to pull up multiple trailers in a straight line is by skillful manipulation of the hand-piece.

 

Yes, the first time you use ABS/EBS it can be a little disconcerting. Hitting the brakes hard in a traditionally braked combination sees an immediate feeling of braking, even if some of the trailers start to drift out and shove the prime mover around. Hitting the brakes in a fully EBS combination can feel like the braking is softer, even less effective.

 

The fact of the matter is the combination is able to brake more safely if it is fitted with state-of-the-art braking systems. With traditionally braked systems it is a bit of a lottery.

 

Yes, the EBS will cut in sometimes, but this is only when the trailers are getting close to a rollover situation. All drivers need to realise a lot of their driving habits of the past do take them too close to the rollover threshold than is desirable.

 

These are cold hard facts. It is not a matter of whether you ‘believe’ in EBS or ABS, it’s a matter of using the safest possible system to keep everyone on the roads safe. It’s a matter of understanding scientific fact and acting accordingly.

 

We went though the same process with disc brakes. They were effective at stopping a truck quicker, but rejected on grounds that were more about ‘belief’ than cold hard fact. Now, the proportion of disc-braked trailers in the fleet is rising rapidly and we are all safer, as a result.

Remain Vigilant

It’s Access, Stupid!

It’s not the economy, it’s access, stupid! That’s the problem dogging the trucking industry in its attempt to keep up with the need for improved productivity and capacity. The original phrase, which Diesel News is paraphrasing here, was ‘It’s the Economy, Stupid!’. The slogan was plastered over the desks of those working in the Bill Clinton Presidential Election campaign, back in 1992.

 

The phrase was an answer to the question everyone was asking at the time. What is the most important issue to the US voter in this election. It was the economy then and probably is the economy now, in the minds of US voters. However, ‘how do we get rid of this Trump guy?’ might also be on the minds of many stateside.

 

There is no doubt about the answer to the question, which needs to be asked, about what is the main issue holding the trucking industry in Australia back. It’s Access, Stupid! Operators big and small, handling goods over short distances or interstate, in every industry segment, are hamstrung by the inability to be able to get a particularly efficient truck on a certain section of road, which is capable of handling that truck.

 

Road managers across Australia are knocking back applications, or making it clear there is no point in applying to use a route with a particular truck, all across the country. The reasons for these decisions being made are many and varied and often unfathomable from the point of view of the trucking operator trying move freight for their customer in a cost-effective way.

 

There is an element of lack of knowledge on the part of local authorities, especially in rural areas, about what the effect of truck A on route B would have on the road’s integrity. As a result, the knee-jerk answer is to say no, stick with what we are doing now – it seems to work.

 

Of course, there are some commendable exceptions in some areas where the trucking industry is a particularly important part of the local economy. They are open to ideas and will make the effort to get improved productivity vehicles over the line.

 

Unfortunately, the converse is also true. The other local authorities through which said truck may need to pass, may not be seeing any real benefit to their local economy and are not incentivised to go out on a limb and allow an innovative truck on the road.

 

In the big cities, the situation is beginning to get fraught. There is a direct relationship between a city community undergoing economic growth and the need to bring more freight into the community. Instead, we see trucks labelled as ‘monsters’ and ‘dirty’, they are portrayed by some campaigners as a threat to children’s health.

 

Truck bans and curfews make life difficult for any one trying to get goods into or through these areas. As a rule, politicians are averse to being seen to be connected in any way to this truck traffic and find it hard to make ‘brave’ decisions to improve truck access in the city.

 

Add to this the road and bridge engineers who make calculations assuming all trucks are going on their bit of road grossly over weight and liable to break everything. They are demanding Intelligent Access Program monitoring, which ensures correct axle loading, but ignore the fact the trucks are not going to be overloaded.

 

As a result of all of these problems we do not have B-triples plying their trade between all of our major cities. There is minimal access for A-doubles on routes like the Hume, Western and Newell Highways, even though the road infrastructure can handle them.

 

At the same time, extra trucks are driving around in the big cities because the authorities will not allow quad axle trailers with a steering axle on many streets and neither will they allow over dimension trailers easily capable of general access.