The recent LBRCA Conference could be described as yet another of those moments when we see more deja vu issues for transport, we seem to have lived through this before.
There is an inevitability when attending the Livestock, Bulk and Rural Carriers Association (LBRCA), many of the discussions among operators revolve around the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) in New South Wales who regulate road use for trucks. This year’s event in Griffith was no exception.
There has been a gradual warming of the relationship between the LBRCA and the RMS over the years as the state roads agency has become less combative and more inclusive after it transformed from the old Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to the modern RMS. However, the NSW authorities still like to run their own race and take stands on certain issues which vary considerably from the rules in other states.
This variation wouldn’t be so much of an issue if it wasn’t for the fact a massive proportion of the freight passing though on NSW roads has either come from or is going to another state, or both. This means that what goes on NSW roads affects a big percentage of all Australian transport operations.
The instigation and ongoing development of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has seen the worst of the interstate variation in road and truck rules diminish. However, the RMS persists in carrying on its own path even as the process of bringing the enforcement wing of the agency under the NHVR umbrella is taking place.
The difference in recent years has been the language used by RMS representatives and how they present their position to organisations like the LBRCA, who represent the grassroots of trucking across the state. The loud lecturing and threats have gone, the spirit of compromise is now king and the trucking industry is all the better for it.
There is one thing that hasn’t changed and that is the number of people from the industry who stand up to ask questions at the end of an RMS presentation and deliver a list of problems and intransigencies which are hampering safe and productive operations on the road.
There are always lots of questions, but groundbreaking answers to real problems are rare at these types of conferences.
Moving forward with the RMS
“We need to be accommodating and encouraging to help the trucking industry with the freight task,” said Susie Mackay, RMS Director Freight Roads and Maritime Services. “Looking at road freight, we are expecting an increase of 40 per cent over the next 20 years. If you exclude coal, about 80 per cent of all freight is moved on the road. By 2036, we are looking at more than 400 million tonnes being moved each year on our roads and this is expected to rise up to 543 million tonnes per year by 2056, which is the end point of the current NSW plan.
“We need to look at how we can be smarter and how we can improve the vehicles hauling the freight. We need to encourage industry to use higher productivity improved vehicles to undertake the new freight task.”
One of the RMS projects is called Focus on Freight and it is aimed at informing the discussion in local communities about freight transport in their area. It is an initiative by the RMS to put across points which the trucking industry has been trying to publicise for many years, often with little to show for the effort.
The latest brochure put out by the project has a useful graphic presentation of just how important high productivity trucks can be, because of their effect on the number of truck movements on our roads. It shows the performance levels available for all kinds of vehicle, all the way from a single semitrailer up to a 36.5 m long B-triple on higher mass limits.
It shows the number of vehicle trips needed to handle all of the different tasks in NSW using only semis is 16.6 million. However, if all that freight was handled by a B-triples the number of truck trips would be 5.5 million. This difference represents and 67 per cent decrease in the number of the trips and carbon emissions, as well as a 35 per cent reduction in road wear.
This project and these materials are designed to enable RMS to explain the available possibilities to road managers around the state and impress upon them why there is a need to think constructively about introducing high productivity vehicles and not holding back progress by limiting access.
“One of the points we are making is that if you encourage high productivity vehicles in your area, it is beneficial for your road network in terms of road maintenance,” said Susie. “The key to good last mile access is if RMS can communicate well with local government. It is a huge focus for us and we go out on a day-to-day basis talking to councils and sharing our knowledge, but we are also developing a council and community engagement strategy so we can be a bit more cohesive about the way we go about engaging councils.
“We are also working hard on the farm gate access initiative to enable transport companies to get access on lower lower quality low volume roads.”
NSW is undergoing a significant level of investment in infrastructure around the state and this is set to continue for at least the next five years. A lot of the investment is in the motorway network around Sydney and on the Pacific Highway, but there is also some significant investment in rural roads to the west.
“We have been doing some very interesting work recently in the RMS examining the economic value of road freight,” said Susie. “Not surprisingly, it confirms what we probably already thought, that road freight contributes quite a significant amount and this is helping us in arguing for the need for a continuing focus on road freight.”