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.