Remain Vigilant

It’s Access, Stupid!

It’s not the economy, it’s access, stupid! That’s the problem dogging the trucking industry in its attempt to keep up with the need for improved productivity and capacity. The original phrase, which Diesel News is paraphrasing here, was ‘It’s the Economy, Stupid!’. The slogan was plastered over the desks of those working in the Bill Clinton Presidential Election campaign, back in 1992.


The phrase was an answer to the question everyone was asking at the time. What is the most important issue to the US voter in this election. It was the economy then and probably is the economy now, in the minds of US voters. However, ‘how do we get rid of this Trump guy?’ might also be on the minds of many stateside.


There is no doubt about the answer to the question, which needs to be asked, about what is the main issue holding the trucking industry in Australia back. It’s Access, Stupid! Operators big and small, handling goods over short distances or interstate, in every industry segment, are hamstrung by the inability to be able to get a particularly efficient truck on a certain section of road, which is capable of handling that truck.


Road managers across Australia are knocking back applications, or making it clear there is no point in applying to use a route with a particular truck, all across the country. The reasons for these decisions being made are many and varied and often unfathomable from the point of view of the trucking operator trying move freight for their customer in a cost-effective way.


There is an element of lack of knowledge on the part of local authorities, especially in rural areas, about what the effect of truck A on route B would have on the road’s integrity. As a result, the knee-jerk answer is to say no, stick with what we are doing now – it seems to work.


Of course, there are some commendable exceptions in some areas where the trucking industry is a particularly important part of the local economy. They are open to ideas and will make the effort to get improved productivity vehicles over the line.


Unfortunately, the converse is also true. The other local authorities through which said truck may need to pass, may not be seeing any real benefit to their local economy and are not incentivised to go out on a limb and allow an innovative truck on the road.


In the big cities, the situation is beginning to get fraught. There is a direct relationship between a city community undergoing economic growth and the need to bring more freight into the community. Instead, we see trucks labelled as ‘monsters’ and ‘dirty’, they are portrayed by some campaigners as a threat to children’s health.


Truck bans and curfews make life difficult for any one trying to get goods into or through these areas. As a rule, politicians are averse to being seen to be connected in any way to this truck traffic and find it hard to make ‘brave’ decisions to improve truck access in the city.


Add to this the road and bridge engineers who make calculations assuming all trucks are going on their bit of road grossly over weight and liable to break everything. They are demanding Intelligent Access Program monitoring, which ensures correct axle loading, but ignore the fact the trucks are not going to be overloaded.


As a result of all of these problems we do not have B-triples plying their trade between all of our major cities. There is minimal access for A-doubles on routes like the Hume, Western and Newell Highways, even though the road infrastructure can handle them.


At the same time, extra trucks are driving around in the big cities because the authorities will not allow quad axle trailers with a steering axle on many streets and neither will they allow over dimension trailers easily capable of general access.

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The Lack of Bright Young People

There has been plenty of wringing of hands about the lack of bright young people coming into trucking, but not much has been done. Hats off to NatRoad, who has bitten the bullet and is getting behind a strong initiative designed to kick-start the development of a culture of inclusion for young people in the trucking industry.


The announcement by NatRoad talks about ‘driving’ young people into the Australian trucking industry. Let’s hope we don’t have to drive them, but more entice and attract them into a vibrant, growing industry, one which leads the world in terms of productivity and technical development and one in which they feel they can prosper.


The program in question is the Commonwealth Government’s Youth Jobs PaTH (Prepare Trial-Hire) scheme. The scheme has had success in hospitality and construction and is backed by $760 million in funding from the 2016–17 Federal Budget.


One important factor will be the low risk attached to the scheme on the part of employers. People between the ages of 17 and 24 can train as an intern in a trucking business for up to 12 weeks. If, at the end of that time, the employer likes the look of the youngster and has seen them pick up and develop skills during the internship, they can take them on and receive an incentive of between $6,500 and $12,000. The commitment is to employing them, full, part time or casual for the following six months.


This is a genuine opportunity for the whole trucking industry to do something about an issue we have been complaining about but doing very little to solve. Now is the time to break out the self-imposed ghetto we have kept the industry in and break out to become the kind of vibrant and attractive industry we know it can be.


Simply by bringing in youngsters as interns and speaking to them, learning what they are looking for in a career, we can improve the industry. The process of becoming an attractive career is as much about listening and learning for the employers as it is about the young people learning from them.


It is possible, especially in a trucking industry that can take up your entire life 24/7 for years on end, to develop a bunker mentality. In that bunker the information coming in from outside is limited and it is difficult to keep up with changing times and changing social attitudes among young people.


Yes, the generation coming into the workforce does have a different attitude to work and what they expect from it, than many in the industry have. The fact of the matter is, they do have a different perspective and we need them, desperately. It is up to us – the grumpy older generation that likes to romanticise the good old days, when there were no rules and plenty of hard yakka – to snap out of it.


This is the 21st century and, with an average truck driver age of 53, the current working environment is becoming less and less sustainable every year. There is no time to lose – trucking needs to get its act together and increase the flow of youngsters to freshen the whole game up.


There is little or no choice – demographics are against you. It is important to grab an opportunity like this new initiative being led by NatRoad and bring in some youngsters, get to know them and their like and dislikes.


It’s Access, Stupid!

Manufacturing in Australia Is Dead!

We are constantly being told manufacturing in Australia is dead! In fact, we in the trucking industry know manufacturing in Australia is far from dead, as far as trucks, trailers and trucking is concerned.


Yes, Holden, Ford, Toyota and Mitsubishi have bitten the dust – and the kind of large scale mass manufacturing needed to make cars has probably gone, never to return. There are, however, some big companies in Australia making big bucks from vehicle manufacture, they just aren’t high-profile businesses constantly in the public eye.


Last week, Diesel News made its way to the Volvo Group’s Wacol truck assembly plant to see trucks number 60,000 and 60,001 roll off the end of the production line, one Volvo FH and a Mack Superliner.


They were wrapped in green and gold artwork displaying the Australia Made logo – they are able to show this label as the manufacturing process is deemed by the Australia Made organisation to meet its criteria.


‘What criteria?’ I hear you ask. Well, the criteria for manufactured products were changed in February this year from a narrow definition of a 50-per-cent-of-the-cost-of-production test to a new definition which talks about a ‘substantial transformation’.


The definition now goes like this:


“A fundamental change – in form, appearance or nature, such that the goods existing after the change are new and different goods from those existing before the change.

What does that mean?

It means that simple treatments or processing – such as repackaging or mere assembly – are not likely to qualify an otherwise imported good for the ‘Made in Australia’ claim.

An item must be ‘substantially transformed’ in Australia.”


The Volvo and Mack product fit the new description, as do the other two truck manufacturers putting together trucks in Australia, Kenworth and Iveco. All three take a slightly different approach to the way a truck is made, but all fit into the made in Australia ideal.


Of course, the engines are not made here in Australia. Nobody makes engines here anymore. The capital cost is too high. Volvo, Mack and, in some cases, Kenworth do not construct the cabins in Australia either, but just about everything else is sourced here. Iveco actually presses the raw steel to make the cabins for the Acco trucks that collect our garbage and deliver our concrete.


When we look at the trailers being hauled by these trucks, they are all, with a few exceptions, made here in Australia from scratch. The trailer manufacturing industry is a true Aussie one. It goes all the way from high-volume assembly-line trailer making, to one man and his dog, with a welder, putting together custom-built specialised trailing equipment for the trucking industry.


The trailer industry makes gear to suit Australian conditions, to cope with our terrible roads and our – higher-than-anywhere-else – masses. The stresses and strains we put our trailing gear through are unimaginable for many of the trailer designers plying their trade in Europe and the US.


This is just the headline equipment that is manufactured here. There are all those component manufacturers also doing their bit to keep Australian manufacturing alive. I recently had the opportunity to tour the new Dana plant in Keysborough in Victoria. The company took a hit when Ford closed its plant, but the new facility is now buzzing with activity, building axles and driveshafts for all three truck makers who build here in Australia


Manufacturing in Australia is dead? Long live manufacturing in Australia!

Who Does What?

People outside or new to the trucking industry often ask why there are so many industry associations and who does what. The answer can often be quite complex and the history of trucking’s relationship with governments, both state and federal, needs to illustrate where they all came from. Read more

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Sensible Axle Loading

One day, here in Australia, we may get to some sensible axle loading regulations, but the political wrangling between states’ road managers and the regulators means it isn’t going to happen anytime soon. It is always the same, rationality goes out of the window when it comes to stuff like axle weights and road and bridge capabilities.


These thoughts were provoked by a post put up by someone showing the rather ridiculous rules around twin steer prime movers. Twin steers are never going to be viable in the current mass regime as this, inherently more stable, prime mover gets punished with lower payload and, hence, lower productivity.


The question is an innocent one, but should be asked on a regular basis. If I put an extra steering axle on the road, and the truck meets all of the dimension and axle loading requirements, why can’t I get a higher mass limit than the single steer truck?


The numbers are clear, as are the regulations. Certain axle spacings and dimensions are deemed to protect the highways from damage, but not in the case of a twin steer. Running with the extra prescribed mass on a second steer axle is seen by the rules as unacceptable.


Some operators have found a solution to this issue, by going down the Performance Based Standards route. A little bit of extra length with get you over the line in this case. However, the prime mover is limited in the way it can be used and reduces flexibility in a fleet. It can only run with a specific trailer and if it pulls another trailer, it is penalised, losing the mass of the extra axle in payload.


This is not the first time the issue has come up. In fact, there was a lot of work done in this area over ten years ago. A discussion paper was produced in 2004 for VicRoads, then a draft proposal and regulatory impact statement appeared in both 2006 and 2007.


The premise was simple, with two scenarios plotted out. One assumed the mass allowed on a pair of twin steering axles remained at 11 tonnes and the second assumed an increase up to 11.5 tonnes on the axle pair. Let us not forget, if these axles are fitted on their own, as a single steer, they are deemed capable of handling 6.5 tonnes, considerably more than 50 per cent of 11 tonnes.


If we assume all of the rules we have today remain the same, with axle loading as it is today, but with overall GCM calculated from the sum of all the axle limits, we get some interesting results. All of a sudden a GCM of 42.5 tonnes for a semi can become 47.5 tonnes. It gets better, if the truck works under Higher Mass Limits the GCM goes up to 50.5 tonnes. It gets even better if you allow a, reasonable, 11.5 tonnes on the twin steers, up to 51 tonnes.


With all of the dimensional rules the same, the bridge loading calculations should also accept this as a reasonable ask. This is especially the case, if we calculate the sum total of overall road wear per 1,000 tonnes of freight and not for each individual truck. After all, if the payload goes up the number of trucks goes down.


Then we can extend the calculations to B-doubles. We need to, because we need the prime mover to be interchangeable between semis and B-doubles. 67.5 tonnes for a standard set-up, with 73 tonnes GCM under HML, plus another 500 kg, up to 73.5 tonnes GCM with a 11.5 tonnes twin steer allowance.


What happened to this eminently sensible proposal? It got lost in the fog of war. The war between state and federal regulators, between departments within the same governments and between government agencies and the authorities they are trying to help.


Perhaps the regulatory situation is a little more rational these days? Perhaps a bit of the fog has cleared and perhaps someone could dust off these old reports and give them a second look?


Remain Vigilant

Making a Lifestyle Choice

When first becoming a truck driver, many new drivers don’t realise they are, in fact, making a lifestyle choice. They are choosing to forego many of the things the general population regard as being part of a normal life. They are also choosing to survive on a bad diet as well as a rest and fatigue regime which is not likely to be good for their health.


This may not be the case for all truck drivers, but the decision to follow the dollar in trucking will often lead to the driver living a lifestyle which is deleterious to their health, their social life and, often, their relationships.


The kind of conditions many truck drivers work under, as being the norm, would be regarded as unacceptable in any industry which tried to start up today. Many years of custom and practice have cemented a largely unhealthy working environment as a normal way to work.


Of course, this view is probably a bit of an exaggeration for many drivers, who are treated well by their employers with working conditions which are similar to those normal in other industries. However, there are some realities which are the same for everyone.


There is minimal access to good quality healthy food for many truck drivers. The service stations and road houses on our major highways have some food options, but, in the main, fried food with little fresh vegetables is the norm, and definitely the cheaper option.


There may be outlets which do sell good food on routes, but, invariably there is no way a truck can park nearby to enable the driver to eat there. Many outlets deliberately set themselves up so truck drivers will not have access. Over the years, truckies themselves have made themselves unattractive as potential customers, a few bad apples spoiling it for the rest.


The work is far from a nine to five type job. Often, when a driver starts their shift, they will have no idea when they will finish. The task may have to be done and it may go to plan, but there are so many issues which can cause delays. Traffic is unpredictable, loading and unloading is always a bit of a lottery, even if a loading slot has been booked.


It gets even more complicated for interstate drivers. A week may involve starting on day shift, going into a series of night shifts or any combination of the above. The driver has to grab rest when the opportunity arises and will often have to take this rest in an inappropriate situation.


Parking spaces are limited for most trucks. Parking spaces where the driver can get an undisturbed sleep are very limited. Parking spaces where they can sleep and which are close to facilities are even more limited. A place to park a truck, get some sleep, get a shower and a good meal do exist but are few and far between.


These issues are just one aspect of the truck driver’s life which make their lifestyle problematic and very different from the experience of most of the population when they go to work. The trucking industry needs to remember just what we are expecting our drivers to put up with in return for a job in this industry.


Paying drivers well may be a form of compensation for the kinds of conditions they have to live with. It would also help if the trucking industry acknowledged it is asking a lot of its drivers and accepted some aspects of the job make for a less than ideal lifestyle for people working in the industry.

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Suspicious Minds

A short post caught my eye this week on Facebook, and it also caught the eye of some other trucking folk with suspicious minds. This wasn’t the usual fodder we see on Facebook, it wasn’t a slick video advertising the latest super gadget you can’t live without, or a rant from someone bagging some other section of society, there were no cat videos involved either.


The short text article said it was from someone working for the A Current Affair TV show wanting to do a story from the truck driver’s point of view about car driver behaviour around trucks. There was simply someone’s name and a telephone number to call, no picture, no logo and no Facebook profile to go with our gallant reporter.


Some of the original comments the post drew were coming up with some subjects the TV show might want to cover. Points were made about caravanners and their lack of knowledge around trucks. Others pointed to information around blindspots, plus stuff about courtesy and consideration. It was all done in a civilised tone, even though the commenters were clearly angry about the situation.


Quite soon after the post appeared some bright spark pointed out the bad spelling and grammar of the original article. They pointed out it was likely to be some sort of hoax, or ACA was setting the truckies up for some sort of beat-up.


The trucking industry has every right to be extremely suspicious of the general media, and most especially of the ACA program and its people. There have been countless stories on the show purporting to show drug-crazed drivers behind the wheel of 60-tonne monsters. Even when genuine trucking people go on the show voluntarily to put their side of the story, they have to watch as they are unfairly misrepresented and the trucking industry gets another kicking from the media.


Not surprisingly, the tenor of most of the rest of the comments around this subject centred around the various stitch-ups that have occurred over the years involving Mike Munro, Tracy Grimshaw and their team. Needless to say, the comments don’t paint a very nice picture of the relationship between trucking and ACA.


Those involved have every right to be angry about the way the trucking industry is portrayed. It’s not just sensationalist rubbish like ACA that misrepresents the trucking industry consistently.


I had to point out to the ABC last year how its story on the suggestion to put B-triples on the Hume Highway, which was a balanced account, should not have been accompanied by pictures of triple road trains running down dirt roads in the outback. The reply I received from the show’s producers didn’t make me any more comfortable, showing a complete misunderstanding of the situation.


So, we are right to be very suspicious of all media and to expect to get burned every time we interact with them. It doesn’t have to be this way, other industries with a lot more negative aspects to them get better coverage than we do.


There is very little real media savvy thinking going on in the trucking industry. As a whole we come across as naive and disparate. On one issue we give out myriad conflicting messages. This gives the general media the opportunity to pick and choose the message and then misrepresent us to the world.


Come on trucking! This is the 21st century, we need to think and act like a modern industry. We need to use our suspicion of those outside the industry to motivate us to work on a common approach to the media and shut down the confusing cloud of negativity we often project to the world.

Passion for Trucking

If there is one thing we can see every day in our industry, it is how people have a genuine passion for their job, or their truck. It’s difficult to work out where this passion might come from, and the people who are passionate about their job will also give you chapter and verse of everything that is wrong with the industry. Read more

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If a Job’s Worth Doing

It is an old saying, but it does still hold true – if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. However, we are told we are in the ‘age of entitlement’ and this is supposed to go hand in hand with an unwillingness to get stuck in and do a good job, on the part of the up-and-coming generation.


Walk around any transport business and what you will see will give the lie to the perception that young people are unwilling to work hard and lack the enthusiasm and motivation to tackle many jobs in the trucking industry.


There are lots of smart young people working in trucking. The problem is there aren’t enough of them to fill the gaps. The trucking industry continues to expand and need new personnel to handle the task.


There isn’t something wrong with the young people who should be coming into our industry, there’s something wrong with our industry, or, to be more precise, the perception of our industry on the part of others, this is particularly the case with exactly the type of young people we need to attract.


The fact of the matter is the trucking industry isn’t badly paid, even when you are starting off at the foot of the ladder. Working conditions aren’t that bad either. Most trucking operations have to run a pretty tight ship these days to take account of workplace health and safety (WHS) and chain of responsibility (CoR) rules, as well as the need to make it an attractive workplace to keep the existing staff.


It’s a good industry and pays well, but it struggles to attract the brightest and the most motivated. What could be the problem? Unfortunately, the answer is the same as it is when many questions are asked about trucking’s woes, it’s about the perception of the industry by those who are not part of it.


There are several causes of this misperception – some of them are historical and just about all of them are of our own doing. There are many in trucking that live in the past, hanker for the good old days. They are always complaining how they can’t do things they could in the past, that all this red tape and paperwork is ruining the industry.


Get over it! The trucking industry needs to be a modern, forward-thinking one to enable it to handle an ever-increasing freight task on ever-more congested roads and using crumbling infrastructure to get the job done.


We don’t need pessimism and a complaining attitude; we need a positive go-getter attitude to take on the challenges. This is the environment we need to work in, whether it be the regulatory one, the economic one or any other environment.


The one single attribute the trucking industry has always had and needs to keep a strong grip on is the ability to look for a solution and get the job done in a practical way. Trucking people have always come up with a solution that works for them and works for the customer.


A bit more of this positivism will be reflected in the perception people have when looking in from the outside. We need to tell our story and show how we have solved the riddle of moving stuff from A to B in the economy and world of 2017 and how we are using the latest smarts in an innovative way.


Once we pump a bit more positivism through the system and do a bit less whingeing about the good old days, we may find young people rediscover a dynamic fast-paced and technologically cutting-edge industry like trucking, and want to work in it.

Remain Vigilant

Looking in from the Outside

It’s not until you start looking in from the outside that you can see the full picture and get some perspective. I have just returned from a holiday in Europe and became a casual observer of the way road transport is handled in Spain, France and the UK.


Apart from the obvious differences, like driving on the wrong side of the road and pulling semi-trailers with a single drive prime mover, there is a lot more to think about. The European economy seems to be picking up and, as a result, the trucking industry is hauling more freight.


Watching how much of the freight makes it from A to B shows us just how inefficient their transport system is in comparison to our own. First, the biggest truck on the road is semi and often limited to just 40 tonnes gross combination mass (GCM). Second, a lot of the final-mile delivery work is handled by small vans, and I mean small vans, not at a five or six tonne GCM but closer to two.


The sheer geography of a lot of the urban environment means it is easier to get around the city in something not much bigger than a car, but even on the outer edges of the cities, vans predominate. Smaller vans means more trips, more vans and more man hours. This equates to lower efficiency.


Out on the main freight routes, the roads are a constant stream of semis travelling on the limiter at 90km/h and driving tail to tail for long periods. The combination of the 16.5-metre length limit and a maximum trailer height of four metres means these trailers are cubed out in most cases and running well below maximum gross weights.


Rational solutions to the crowded city delivery issues are being tried in the more rational Scandinavian countries, with Stockholm running a consolidation distribution system for deliveries into the city. However, these kinds of ideas are unlikely to get started in the less rational Mediterranean cities. The inefficient and chaotic delivery infrastructure is going to remain the norm.


The argument for longer heavier trucks and platooning of line haul trucking in Europe is obvious to the casual Australian observer. A lot of trucks are engaged in a form of ‘virtual’ platooning anyway. They are sitting 40 metres off the truck in front and using active cruise control to maintain distance and speed. Fuel efficiency gains are achievable like this, but getting much closer with some form of autonomous control would reap big savings.


A-double combinations would also reap big rewards in these situations. It is not unusual to see several trucks from the same operator, clearly hauling the same goods to the same destination, traveling along together, a strong argument for road trains and a quantum leap in efficiency.


Returning home and heading out on the highway from the airport and seeing the trucks on our roads drives home just how efficient we have become, when compared to the rest of the world. We are doing a lot of things right.


B-doubles are now the default method of hauling freight in Australia. A-double and larger trucks are handling container movements in and out of ports to regional locations. Even road construction sites are more efficient, on the European motorways you can drive past kilometres of parked rigid tippers in queues. The same amount of material is getting shifted here in ever-larger tipper and dog units at a much lower cost.


Next time you think the trucking game is lagging behind in Australia, just have a look at how the job is done elsewhere and things might seem quite so bad.