With Performance Based Standards we started off with a fantastic idea. We Australians are very good at great ideas. Then came the part where drilling down to the details created the basic tenets of the scheme and how it would work.
In the case of the PBS Scheme the first task was to set out the standards which would be the backbone of the process. These set out just what a vehicle must be able to do and the parameters within which it must perform.
In many ways, it has been compromise all of the way since then. It’s not that compromise is a bad thing. If a compromise is needed to get a reasonable agreement, then it is always better to go down that route than into conflict.
In this case, there seems to have been too much compromise. The whole PBS project has been stifled by a mixture of ignorance, obstruction and a general lack of commitment on the part of State Governments.
The PBS Review, which was released by the National Transport Commission earlier this year, had to be upbeat, and accentuated the positives. There are some great positives and a lot of productivity has been accessed through the scheme. Plus, a lot of carbon emissions have been avoided.
These results have been attained despite government, rather than because of government. A stalwart group of enthusiasts throughout industry and the bureaucracy have kept the PBS dream alive. These are, generally, not people who have any monetary gain from PBS’ success, they simply believe in the idea and think it will be of great benefit to the economy and climate of this country.
In July, when the Ministers signed off on implementing the recommendations of the PBS review, which had been widely welcomed, the industry had a right to be happy. However, now is not the time to rest on our laurels. The job is not even half done.
All we have is an executive order from the top to get PBS right and release the kinds of productivity gains it is capable of delivering. If the PBS scheme gets up and into gear, it can provide trucking with a continuous stream of innovative and economical idea and designs to keep the trucking industry forging ahead in the face of a freight task, which is growing fast.
This kind of result is only going to be possible, if pressure is kept on the the state governments now, to deliver on what is required of them to make PBS work. If they drag their heels the cause is lost and we return to a situation where PBS is a niche player, giving specialised tasks benefits but only delivering expensive solutions for much of the industry.
The system will only work if all roads are properly classified and the states grant vehicles as of right access if they meet all of the criteria. Constantly ploughing through ridiculous mountains of paperwork for every shire involved in a freight task is a logistical nightmare.
If the freight task keeps growing at its current rate and there’s no increase in infrastructure spending, then the Australian economy is going to feel like the typical PBS applicant feels now, like they are living in a logistical nightmare.