Talking Turkey About Trucking

He Who Pays the Piper…

The next round of registration charges will be announced sometime in the New Year and will be greeted with more criticism and complaints. Yet again, the Ministers, both State and Federal, responsible for signing off on the next set of registration charge increases, have backed away from fairness and decided to continue with an inequitable formula for calculating what truck operators should pay.

 

The current situation is a mess. Each year the National Transport Commission gets to play the bad guy and use the inaccurate figures in a flawed formula to come up with another set of registration charges which will overcharge trucking, with no prospect of compensation.

 

Of course, this is not the NTC’s fault. The system was put into place many years ago and the complications introduced with the introduction of the Road User Charge don’t make it any easier. The road transport operator gets a rebate on diesel but pays rego charges for each vehicle, the idea is for the sum total raised to match the funds required by the government to keep our roads in the pristine condition they were in to begin with.

 

This assumes we are content with the infrastructure provided to us for the transportation of goods, the life blood of our economy. We are far from content with the infrastructure and then have the further insult of being charged more than the original developers of the formula envisaged. The system assumes there are fewer trucks on the road than there are in actuality.

 

At the recent meeting of the transport ministers in Adelaide, the NTC had come up with some alternatives, whereby some redress for the trucking industry could have been had. However, this would have meant the state and federal purse foregoing some funds.

 

Therefore, we are overcharged and the ministers decide this year is not the year to introduce fairness into the system. We will leave that for a while longer, during which time we will have to figure out a more equitable system.

 

As ATA CEO, Chris Melham, pointed out this week, there is a mechanism whereby a certain amount of fairness can be reintroduced into the system. In a statement this week, he referred to the Australian Government’s response to the Competition Policy Review (the Harper Review).

 

“Establishing an independent economic regulator, such as the Access and Pricing Regulator proposed in the Harper Review, would help ensure that governments could not ignore pricing decisions like this in the future,” said Chris.

 

In its response to the Harper Review, the Australian Government has said it was willing to consider resuming competition policy payments to the states and territories. This latest straw for the industry to clutch onto may or may not eventuate. Whatever system finally appears, it will be a long time before it becomes a reality.

 

There has been pressure for a long time, by government departments, to take Australia down the mass/distance/location charging route. In this system, each operator pays an amount based on the number of kilometres at a certain tonnage and over a particular route, the truck travelled.

 

This may appear to be scrupulously fair. The more your truck wears out the road, the more you pay. It is also a pain to levy in the current circumstances. The situation would be similar to the fuel tax nightmare US truck operators have lived with, where the driver has to record how many miles they have travelled in each state, every day.

 

Of course, all of this recording will be a lot easier when all of our trucks are wired into the internet and compiling data which is true and accurate, and able to be made available to the authorities. Although many trucks, especially in the big fleets, are already wired and recording, the amount of time to will take to get everyone on board is too long to wait for a more equitable system.

 

It is unlikely the transport ministers are going to walk away from a transparently unfair system, which nets them more money. Rational argument will be answered with a promise to come up with a charging system using electronics in the future, unless severe pressure is put upon the powers that be, to make amends for this rip-off.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

A Chain of Consequences

Another outcome from the meeting of Transport Ministers, at the beginning of the month, is changes to the way the chain of responsibility is made to work. These changes look to bring the COR rules more in line with those governing workplace health and safety, to which they are closely related, and overlap at some points. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

If it’s Broke, Don’t Fix It

The latest communique from the fourth meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council turns out to be much like the ‘Curate’s Egg’, that is, good in parts. There are some encouraging signs in the decisions by the assembled transport ministers of Australia, but the industry is to remain overcharged for rego. Read more

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Infrastructure, infrastructure, infra….

The road transport industry in Australia will tell anyone who will listen about the awful state of this country’s road infrastructure. Not only are we paying over the odds for what we have, the roads we do have are not up to the job and, often, don’t go to the right place.

 

All governments, both federal and state, are serial offenders in the under funding of our infrastructure. The short-termism created by short government terms and leadership churn means long term investment in infrastructure is constantly being promised, but rarely delivered in full.

 

The mantra trotted out by the various treasurers and state finance ministers is always about the how to access the investment dollars to improve infrastructure. All of the research has been done, which demonstrates how every dollar spent in improving transport improves productivity and stimulates economic growth.

 

It’s about time someone bit the bullet, grasped the nettle and put their balls on the line, when it come to infrastructure spending. Let’s hope the recent changes federally will inspire some long term thinking. We are already seeing this in the field of taxation reform, a government willing to tackle the hard questions and develop a consensus.

 

Also this week, we have seen the publication of a survey of major global and Australian investors by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA) and Perpetual, which has revealed there is a significant amount of money available to invest in Australian infrastructure, but more work is required to capture it.

 

The survey asked potential investors about their attitude to investing in Australia and 95 per cent of infrastructure investors said they are likely to invest in Australian opportunities in the near future, but there are some ‘significant barriers to entry’.

 

In a telling stat, 68 per cent of potential investors cited political risk as their greatest concern in the Australian market. After getting a reputation for stable investment, recent developments like the cancellation of the Melbourne’s East West Link and the sell off of assets by Queensland are said to have ‘spooked’ many investors.

 

Half of the survey’s respondents said they were ready to invest more than $1 billion in any one project, with 36 per cent saying they were ready to invest more than $2 billion. There would seem to be plenty of funding available, if we get our act together.

 

There’s the rub, what Australia needs to do is become a mature and sensible country, a place where investors can feel comfortable about the stability of government and the decisions they make. Let’s hope we can all work together on this and get some major infrastructure improvements on track. Otherwise we may end up trying to service a growing first world economy on third world roads, or see our roads stifle possible future growth.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Sleepless in Singleton

There is no doubting the fact one of the biggest issues facing the trucking industry is fatigue. Lack of sleep is simply a fact of life for any truckie on the road. At the very least we have all had that sudden realisation, in the early hours of the morning, we were asleep at the wheel.

 

Any discussion of the topic brings out a series of entrenched positions and, as a result, the debate goes nowhere. The fatigue experts tell us every driver must have so many hours of uninterrupted rest in a 24 hour period and they can wheel out a series of experimental studies which clearly demonstrate the effects of tiredness on driving and decision making.

 

In the other corner, and I probably count myself in this camp, anyone who has driven a truck for long enough and learnt how to monitor their own body well enough to see the danger signs, thinks the best person to control a driver’s fatigue, is the driver themselves. Sometimes you are good to go all night, sometimes you need six hours before you get going. When fatigue hits, you stop and take a break.

 

These are at the two extreme ends of the argument. The fatigue experts need to learn a little pragmatism. The truckie has to remember all the other trucks and truckies on the road, who haven’t made it. It’s not good enough to learn about your limits by going past them.

 

Both sides need to come into the real world. The transport industry is now so complex and systems driven, there is no room for the old, ‘I’ll get there when I can’ attitude, when a driver knew they would not get into trouble for stopping for a rest. Equally, the reality of modern life means the time table is set and an operator will work to the very limit of the rules.

 

The decision the trucking industry does need to take is, whether it is ready to really take fatigue seriously. In the past we knew no better. Now we do know. We know sleep apnoea is at epidemic proportions in long distance truck driving. Driver health is important to productivity and operators do have a duty to ensure their drivers get a chance to become more healthy.

 

We can continue to apply band aid after band aid on this issue. Dianne Carroll’s TransHelp Foundation does a great job and has raised awareness generally about driver health. However, this is just one of many under funded initiatives to improve the industry.

 

In some ways the fatigue experts may be right, we need science to help us get over the issue. At the moment there is no definitive way to test whether a driver is fit for work when they climb into the B-double driver’s seat. Fitness to drive is, therefore, a matter of opinion, not a fact.

 

Unfortunately, this works both ways. The driver can start a shift after a wild weekend with minimal sleep, but the operator and consignor are not liable under the chain of responsibility, because it can’t be proved they should have known the driver was fatigued.

 

Recently, the ATA’s Bill McKinley went to talk to the National Transport Commission and compared the trucking industry to the rail industry. He said the current Assessing Fitness to Drive standard used the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) to screen for sleep apnoea, which asks patients to fill in a questionnaire about their sleeping habits.

 

“Research indicates that as many as 40 per cent of long distance truck drivers may suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnoea,” said Bill. “However, only 12 per cent of these are detected by the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.”

 

Rail medical standards were expanded in 2012 to include an objective test for sleep apnoea, seven per cent of safety critical workers were diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. Not one of them had not been picked up in previous screening using ESS.

 

When are we really going to get serious about addressing real fatigue in the trucking industry and when are governments and regulators going to work with us instead of clamping down on us? Countless office workers are monitoring their bodies with wristbands, using science to get their health better. Surely we can find something to help the truckie at the front of a 68 tonne piece of metal bombing down the highway at 100 km/h. This is the 21st Century after all.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

We Have a List

If anyone asks someone working in the trucking industry what kind of problems they have, or what solutions are required, they are asking for trouble. There will not be a concise and succinct answer. Instead, there will be a list, a very long list, of grievous problems, both real and imagined.

 

The list can be divided into two sections, perennial problems and new ones, which have only popped their heads above the parapet in the last few years. Both sections seem to be getting longer, at the same time as the legislation dealing with the industry is supposed to be more streamlined and efficient.

 

Top of the list for many is one of the longest lingering issues, inconsistency between the states. The introduction of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator was supposed make this go away. Instead, the new regulator seems to have stimulated the most recalcitrant states, namely New South Wales and Western Australia, with able support from South Australia, to come up with even trickier ways of making life difficult for the trucking operator who dares to send their truck over a state border.

 

Next up, we have log books (sorry work diaries!) and fatigue. No amount of reviews or new schemes has made the management of fatigue any easier. The sheer complexity of the rules mean any operator wanting to wring the most they can out of a truck is constantly running the risk of getting expensively pinged for a perceived infringement at a road side check. The weekly NHVR Update regularly has another refining and re-explaining of the rules to try and allay fears and avoid confusion.

 

Rego is one of those discussions which seems to be forever circular. Go back and read the trucking magazines in the seventies and eighties and the topic of rego rises is brought up by disgruntled truckies in the lead up to events like the blockade on Razorback, and at Yass ten years later. Government is always trying to squeeze just a little bit more out of the truck owner without committing to improved roads.

 

Of course, the price of fuel issue will never go away. The big oil companies are never going to become charitable institutions and the tyranny of distance means the price of diesel will change every few kilometres. However, this is one of those issues onto which some light has been thrown. The crazy escalation in price which occurred after the GFC did bring into being the concept of the fuel price levy on freight rates, to ease the pain.

 

Leafing through those old mags will also highlight another hardy perennial, the freight rate. In the seventies and eighties, the rates for loads between the state capitals was published and created concerns, at the time, about the figure’s veracity. Perhaps it’s not such a good idea to look back at those rates, because many will notice they have barely changed since those times. If rates are stable, then the time taken to pay invoices starts to extend, as it has in recent years.

 

One of the new kids on the block, only with us for twelve years, is the chain of responsibility. Presented to the trucking industry as a solution to many of the above issues. It has been a boon, to the big corporations’ legal and compliance departments, as well as for a plethora of consultants of every kind. Covering ones backside has become an industry segment of its own.

 

Electronic monitoring is also a recent promised panacea, which is starting to look a little less attractive when the reality of its use starts to sink in. The government loves it because it makes enforcement possible from a desktop computer in the road authority offices. The subject of electronic work diaries is one of those, which is going to run and run The possibility of mass/distance/location road charging is also very attractive to bureaucrats, who love having a bit of extra cash to spend.

 

Did I mention permits?

 

Stressed? If you weren’t stressed when you started reading this page, you will be now.

 

Like any list, the only thing to do is tick off one thing at a time. Now, where shall we start?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Looking at the Big Picture

One of Australia’s ongoing problems is looking in our backyard and not out into the wider world. This can be said to be the case for the trucking industry and the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, it will have massive knock-on effects on our industry and we should be getting ready.

 

 

Look at the news reports about the TPP and its all political points scoring, about protecting jobs or the US protecting their own industries. In fact, the agreement is a chance for a taste of reality. We are part of a global economy and, in our position, it is impossible to insulate ourselves from the rest of the world.

 

 

Australian trucking should be looking at the proposed agreement and licking its lips at the opportunities we can expect to follow on from its implementation. The TPP will increase the amount of trade, increase economic activity and, as a result, increase the demand for transport services.

 

 

Beef tariffs down nine per cent means more trucks on the road, as does the doubling of the access for the Australian sugar industry into the US, as well as increased sugar into Canada, Japan and Peru. Rice exports to Japan will rise, as will cheese, with the removal of a tariff, plus more access for milk powder and butter. Tariffs are to disappear for cereals, wine and seafood.

 

 

All of these goods will travel on a truck, and the producers will need to more inputs to help meet the new demand. Improved economic activity will be multiplied in the increasing freight task. More work and more trucks on the road will be needed.

 

 

At the same time our larger transport operators, who are involved in overseas operations will also benefit form changes to rules around integrated supply chains. There are enhanced commitments to integration as well as strong trade and investment protection for the providers of logistics services to Malaysia and Vietnam, both countries where Aussie transport companies are currently engaged, and looking to expand.

 

 

We have already seen the desire from our friends in Asia to tap into some of the great Aussie transport expertise, with the acquisition of Toll by Japan Post. This is an opportunity waiting for a solution.

 

 

So, what are we going to do, sit on our hands and complain about foreign interference and influence? Or get out there, get our hands dirty and get some of this new business?

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Who Can We Trust?

The resignation of Martin Winterkorn is the latest news in a crisis undermining our trust in vehicle manufacturers. The CEO of Volkswagen is a big scalp for those who unveiled Volkswagen’s deception in creating a software fix which allowed the diesel cars the company was selling in the US to cheat in order to meet exhaust emission rules.

 

 

The same tricky program may actually be in cars sold here in Australia, but our emission rules are set at a higher level and the engines are likely to still be compliant. Whether diesel Volkswagens are compliant on the roads of the US is neither here nor there for the Australian trucking industry.

 

 

What will be popping into the minds of truck buyers here is more likely to be a question about just how reliable these emissions compliance claims are from the manufacturers. We happily look at trucks which are compliant with Euro 5 or Euro 6, or even US EPA 2007 or 2010 and trust what we are being told is the truth.

 

 

The problem is, we have no idea whether it is true or not. How can you tell if your truck is compliant with ADR 80/02 or ADR 80/03? Do you care? Would you care if it turns out your assertion in a tender document, stating all of the trucks working on a particular task are Euro 5 compliant, was not necessarily true?

 

 

All of the control systems cleaning up the truck exhaust is in the electronic control module, which is programmed to open the EGR valve at this percentage, turn up the flow of adblue into the exhaust stream or regenerate the DPF. It is all well beyond our knowledge and the machine capable of testing exhaust gases correctly costs millions of dollars.

 

 

No-one in Australia actually tests each truck to make sure they are compliant, it is way too expensive. Instead, a controlled test is carried out, somewhere in the world, by qualified technical people working for the vehicle manufacturer. The vehicle is run in laboratory conditions over a set cycle and the results recorded.

 

 

Those results are validated by the country’s governing authority and regulators around the globe accept these as being true. They also accept the manufacturer will make all of the vehicles exactly the same as the model tested and test a sample of them to ensure compliance.

 

 

Now, the truck manufacturers of the world are, almost certainly, all doing the right thing. If a truck says its Euro 6 compliant it probably is, it certainly will be in the future. What the Volkswagen debacle has taught us is the big corporations can be tempted to cheat a little to get over the line if they are struggling to make it legally.

 

 

The modern truck system is based on trust. We have to trust the manufacturers’ engineers because we have no idea what is going on in the little black boxes all over the truck. In the past, anyone who knew their stuff could look a truck over, pull things apart and know exactly how it worked, and how to fix it by the side of the road. These days, even the technicians don’t know for sure, they have to believe what the laptop tells them.

 

 

It’s not just the emission control which is like this. The modern safety systems are also run by ECMs which are programmed somewhere else in the world and we have to trust they are built to work properly and have adequate failsafe systems.

 

 

It is all about trust, as well as the power of litigation and corporate responsibility to keep the big boys in line. The Volkswagen scandal is not going to undermine our trust in these systems, but it should cause us to question some assertions made about particular vehicles and always err on the side of caution where new technology is involved.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Who wants to work in trucking?

Talk to anyone at any industry forum and the subject of getting and keeping good people to work in the trucking industry is always coming up. This is a problem, both short term and long term, and one which needs to be addressed by the trucking industry as a whole.

 

 

One of the big players in freight, Asciano, has developed a progressive attitude to HR within its corporate structure. Employees at the company range right across the spectrum but do include a large number of truckies, warehouse and dock workers, as well as technicians.

 

 

This week the company outlined the reasons people should go and work for the freight giant in a blog post on its website. The various reasons laid out were aimed at pulling in the young, diverse people they need, to replace the ageing male workforce the company has.

 

 

Looking down that list, how many trucking operations could answer in the positive, when asked if they are attractive to young, smart and ambitious people. These are the new recruits we need, how are we going to get them?

 

 

Here are some of the eight reasons, according to the blog, as to why you should go and work for Asciano.

 

 

First up is stability. Having worked in the transport industry all of my working life, I can contend most employment in our industry is very far from stable. Contracts come and go, large corporates build up large truck fleets and divest themselves of them in a cyclical way. Working for a small operator never feels stable, often operations are only one major stuff-up away from disaster.

 

 

Trucking does score well on the variety of work. For many truckies, they never know what they are going to be asked to do next, but whatever it is, it will have to be done now, and to a tight deadline. Even if the job is the same on a day to day basis, you never know what is going to happen and what you will have to do to get the task completed.

 

 

Opportunities for every level of education? I am sure most major trucking operations do have these opportunities. Over ten years the number of people aged 25 to 34 with a bachelor degree rose from 25 to 37 per cent. Are these people pouring into road freight? Do many see working in our industry as a last option when all of the others have failed to materialise?

 

 

What about career progression? Does someone coming into a trucking business see it as a career where they can develop their full potential? Although there is plenty of churn in the workforce at the coalface, there is little movement among management. Perhaps some of the bigger operators like Toll or Linfox work hard, in some areas, to develop ambitious young people and bring them through. However, it is not the case for most working in trucking.

 

 

The fact, working in the trucking industry is not location specific is an advantage, and probably one we should emphasise more often. Get experience in a trucking operation and you can take the skill anywhere, even overseas. Of course, this aspect does have a flip-side when we see good drivers and technicians drifting into the mining area when the going is good and then coming back with their tail between their legs when the big money dries up.

 

 

Working with new technologies? Well yes, the trucking industry does work with a lot of new technologies and many of them are for the employees benefit, in terms of improved safety and easier working conditions. Many others, however, are based on a mistrust on the part of the operator, for the employee. It’s often about big brother watching you and controlling every aspect of the driver’s behaviour, maximising productivity.

 

 

The last two are problematic for trucking, good pay and fulfilling work. Often the kind of money it is possible to earn is very good, but comes with a lot of sacrifices, not least of which is living in a cramped cabin, putting up with terrible facilities and hardly ever seeing the family.

 

 

Fulfilling work involves a sense of satisfaction in doing a job well, and we can all get that from our work. Working in the trucking industry can also be very frustrating with road users, road conditions and roadside enforcement all making life on the road difficult. Overcome all these obstacles and get the freight delivered, then there is some satisfaction. There can also be a long frustrating wait for your paperwork, as well.

 

 

All in all, is the trucking industry an attractive option? Perhaps it is for some, but not for many. I, for one, tried to convince my oldest son to use his good results at school to try and find a career in road transport. Only to be greeted with a short two-word answer.

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Showing Some Love

This is a subject I reckon I am going to return to again and again, treating truck drivers like human beings. A report from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation shows how an improvement in truck driver health has been achieved by a workplace intervention program. After the program there was a 15 per cent drop in drivers self-reporting their body mass index (BMI) as obese. These truckies are eating healthier, exercising more and losing weight.

 

 

Truckies had been targeted by the QUT team leader, Dr Marguerite Sendall, as they are regarded as having the kind of lifestyle where they are at a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Fatigue from long working hours and the sedentary nature of the job mean drivers are regarded as taking them into the high risk category.

 

 

The initiative was funded by the Queensland Government’s Healthier Happier.Workplaces initiative and the project was developed by QUT to investigate the effectiveness of workplace-based nutrition and physical activity health promotion programs for truckies in south-east Queensland.

 

 

The very nature of the mobile workplace and the lack of good food on the road made getting the message out to drivers and getting them to act on the advice particularly problematic. The team looked at the nature of the workplace and developed specific strategies.

 

 

The kind of thing tried included offering healthy options in vending machines at work. Employers also agreed to supply free fruit to drivers and promote the 10,000 steps workplace challenge among the workforce.

 

Over the two-year project, five transport companies employing between 20 and 200 truck drivers were involved. Each tried four or five different strategies. Each was tailored to specifically to the real world situation for the truckies involved.

 

 

“What workplaces need to be doing is responding proactively to the barriers in each individual workplace,” said Marguerite. “For example providing microwaves and small fridges, especially for line haul drivers.”

 

 

At the end of the day, both drivers and management were happy. There were also positive health outcomes for the drivers. 18 per cent more of the truckies said they were making lifestyle changes to improve their health, 20 per cent pre-intervention rose to 38 per cent post-intervention.

 

 

More drivers said their health was ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. They had also learned about good nutrition and increased their intake of fruit and vegetables.

 

 

This is the kind of great result which can be achieved when trucking companies show they do care about their drivers. Most of the time truckies feel ignored, marginalised and unloved. Real initiatives, where changes are customised to take into account the weird lifestyle imposed on the average truckie, can have a real effect.

 

 

So, go on trucking industry, show your drivers some love!