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!”