The latest publication from the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator could turn out to be a Happy Rational Christmas present for the trucking industry if we engage with the proposals and ensure they are able to be implemented.
The document in question is the NHVR’s draft Heavy Vehicle Productivity Plan 2020-2025, which has just been released for public consultation. The plan outlines the NHVR’s objectives and goals to deliver safe, efficient and productive heavy vehicle movements supporting a strong and prosperous Australia.
The plan lays out a series of goals and objectives which, according to the NHVR, will make it possible for the trucking industry to take full advantage of the possibilities available to improve productivity and maximise the ability of road transport to keep up with ongoing growth in the freight task.
These goals all tie in with the current process being undertaken by the National Transport Commission in rewriting the Heavy Vehicle National Law. As the NHVR has been deeply involved in the process of the review, this plan will have been informed by what is more than likely to come out of the review.
The plan has looked at the myriad obstructions which are littered in the path of the smart trucking operator wanting to improve productivity in their business, and then prioritises what needs to done to get the kind of outcomes the Australian economy needs.
The problem may be that even if the NHVR identify the problem and the NTC, the trucking industry, the states and the feds all get on board with the idea, it might not get the right kind of funding. There is also, always the possibility of a fight breaking out between states, or between Canberra and the states.
But let’s be positive about this and hope that the powers that be can get this particular boat into harbour safely.
What is the plan’s aim? To bring access certainty and consistency. No-one is going to knock that one back. We have been crying out for a modicum of consistency for so long. The NHVR has introduced consistency in some areas, but we are still a long way from the goal.
How will this consistency be achieved? The plan suggests increasing gazetted and pre-approved networks to remove the majority of permits for low-risk movements. This is beginning to happen, but the NHVR need to be able to speed up the process to achieve the kind results it is hoping for.
There is talk of providing greater certainty for PBS vehicles, this will only be possible when the entire road network is comprehensively classified, down to the last 100 metres and realistic assessments of the road network can be consistently provided with no aberrations from state to state.
Here is the crux of the matter, in order to understand the real capacity and capability of roads and bridges on key freight routes, we need to have publicly available assessments which live in the real world.
To say that road managers are risk averse is a gross understatement. There needs to be a process where an economic cost benefit analysis of freight routes needs to be available and funding directed to where it can most benefit the freight task and not, necessarily, the car driving voters. Maybe a particular bridge will only last another ten years, but by then we will have made enough money to replace it with something which will last for 100 years.
The quid pro quo from the trucking industry will be to make movement data available to the road managers on a de-identified basis and used by the authorities to improve access.
A major objective needs to be to make sure local government builds the capability to properly assess the road network and enable trucking to get on with the job. This is going to require time and investment by all governments to make sure the knowledge and expertise is on hand to make rational and well informed decisions about truck access and not the current knee-jerk reactions we are seeing today, in some places.
The thing is, if we introduce some rationality into the whole system, all of the other good things will follow. New innovative trucks will be developed because they will be able to pay their way and be built in sufficient numbers. The tendering process will not be fraught with lingering doubt about whether the authorities will or will not allow a particular truck on their roads.
If we really want a Happy New Year, the trucking industry needs to get onto the NHVR website and give the draft plan plenty of feed back and add to its credibility, because if rationality in access gets up, we will all have an optimistic 2020.