Is it a case of too much information? Or is it, in fact, more the case, there is just not enough information? The correct answer is not enough information, as a result of neglect and not enough funding over a long period.
This neglect and the resulting lack of knowledge and information is having a detrimental effect on the productivity o the trucking industry, therefore on the productivity of all of Australian industry and a resulting negative impact on Gross Domestic Product.
What are we lacking? A realistic idea of the condition of our road network and a real lack of people who work for and on behalf of local authorities who actually understand what their roads can or cannot handle.
In the past, all of this information fell between the cracks. The State governments knew a little bit about their roads but not a lot. Chronic underfunding in local councils meant there was a very low level of understanding about the quality, or otherwise, of our road stock.
It is this deficit in knowledge which has brought our access options for trucks to the difficult and time consuming schmozzle it has become. It’s a bit like the blind leading the blind, and the poor old trucking industry is the one left in the dark.
The relationship between road authorities and trucking operators has been problematic for some time. Arbitrary decisions made by public servants with next to no knowledge about the capabilities of the road, and the truck seeking permission to use it, has caused friction between all parties involved.
It was only with the arrival of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, there was the possibility to see some light at the end of the tunnel. However, when the NHVR first got involved we got a short sharp glimmer of light snuffed out by the collapse of the permit granting process when the NHVR came online in 2014.
Now it has regrouped, the NHVR now seems to have a grasp on the size and scope of the mountainous task it faces in the quest to develop a rational and functional road access system, with which both the road managers and the trucking industry are happy.
Now the NHVR has a handle on the issues and has developed an online system for applying for and granting access permits for a limited number of sectors. This has been coupled with a strong drive to develop a growing raft of notices to reduce the need for the myriad of pointless access applications operators have had to go through in the past.
Now, the meat of the problem is being attacked as the Local Government Heavy Vehicle Access Forum convened. This is the first of a number of such fora and drew representatives from 50 local governments from Queensland and New South Wales.
This will give everyone involved in the glacial progress to better road access to become part of the solution instead of being part of the problem. The idea is to shed some light into the dark, and provide knowledge and assistance to the people charged by local authorities to make the call on which truck can and cannot use a particular stretch of the road network.
This is going to be another long hard slog for the NHVR but by bringing to the table the experiences and decision making knowledge it has gleaned from the access discussions it has had with the few local authorities who have got on board and worked alongside industry to get rational access, there is a chance to share improved knowledge.
We, as an industry, have been waiting a long time for some real progress on this issue and this next step is clearly a positive one. However, ‘there’s many a slip between cup and lip’ as they say, so, we are not holding our breath for a substantial breakthrough quite yet.
As usual, the trucking industry, always under pressure to deliver higher and higher productivity, will, yet again, have to be patient and wait while the knowledge levels out there in local-government-land slowly but surely get up to speed.