The announcement this week by the National Transport Commission of a plan to develop a regular report into what is happening inside the road transport industry reminds us just how we don’t know who’s who in the zoo in the trucking world.
There is no reliable database about what trucks are shifting what freight, from where and to where. They can’t even come up with a reliable figure on how many truck operators there are in Australia. This point was highlighted last year when each media outlet had a different figure for how many owner drivers were going to be affected by the introduction of the RSRT.
We know we don’t know much, we also know what we know anecdotally from what people tell us and what we see. There are some ideas about what is going on with monthly truck sales figures, but we have only recently started to get any information about trailer sales.
There is accident information which breaks the data down by state and whether any truck involved is a rigid or articulated. This data is extended by the good work done by the NTI National Truck Accident Research Centre, drilling down into the insurance company’s own data to detect trends in on road behaviour in trucking.
Of course, we have some massive transport operators who record everything and get a really good snapshot of what is going on in their business. This data holds a very reliable picture of the whole industry. Unfortunately, it is owned by the company in question and they are not going to let anyone else know what’s going on, they are using good quality data to develop their own businesses.
So the best we can expect to get when looking at the trucking industry in Australia is, probably, an educated guess. This is probably good enough when putting together a weekly opinion piece for the Diesel News email newsletter, but not quite as dependable when developing government policy and planning infrastructure development.
Perhaps this can be used as an explanation for the dire policy decisions we have had to endure in the past. The trucking industry is unknown and ignored by government until something goes wrong. Then the knee jerk reaction shows the government doing something, but it’s always reactive, ill-judged and often ill-timed.
Even in this era of data being recorded all of the time about everything, we are still not very far from the situation where we are ‘making transport policy by the side of the road’, as we were in 1989. The example of the RMS reaction after the Mona Vale crash comes to mind on this front.
We are still dealing with the consequences of the scatter gun approach to regulation which has given us a myriad of different rules, in different states, many of which are in direct conflict with each other.
The proposed NTC report is planned to be a five yearly thing, so we can’t even expect to get the first snapshot until well after 2020. Then we will have to wait another five years to identify any trends. After that it will be a further couple of years to get some new regulations, laws, initiatives which will use the data to make things better. Don’t hold your breath!